Though the nation’s second-largest industry seems like it doesn’t change much, there are myriad, nuanced forces that shape the way contractors do business and build structures — and Construction Dive is spotting some of these dynamics one story at a time. Here are the top trends to expect in 2020.
Scrutiny into structural processes will aim to make catastrophes more impossible
The national spotlight last year was on a few major structural failures that resulted in several deaths, and the ensuing legal and public relations messes are likely to change how some contractors do business in 2020.
In October, a passerby’s video showed the upper floors of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans slide into those below, killing three workers and injuring several others. Lawsuits brought by the victims’ families and survivors allege inadequate shoring of concrete floors, the owner’s reluctance to pay for qualified workers and shortcuts that put the project and those working within the structure in danger (although investigators have not yet released the definitive cause).
Last year also saw the resolution of questions surrounding who was to blame for the deadly 2018 Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse. The National Transportation Safety Board took all parties —contractors, designers, consultants, FIU and the Florida DOT — to task for not stopping work, failing to shore up the bridge and for not blocking the flow of traffic underneath the bridge when it became apparent that developing cracks suggested a hazardous structural issue. The primary cause, however, according to the NTSB, was a failure in design.
So, what impact will these and other tragedies have on contractors next year and thereafter?
Construction companies could experience more scrutiny from their insurance carriers, whose deep pockets are typically the primary target of lawsuits, Dan Hanson, senior vice president of management liability and client experience for Marsh & McLennan Agency in Minneapolis, told Construction Dive in November.
And while no design firms or contractors are likely to admit that their in-house systems of checks and balances are lacking, the NTSB’s finding that there were breakdowns in communications and in the design and construction of the FIU bridge is sure to force contractors to reevaluate their procedures.
If nothing else, the threat of criminal prosecution could force construction firms to take a closer look at the design and execution of their projects. For example, Kevin Otto, the owner of the now-defunct Atlantic Drain Service in Boston, was recently found guilty on two counts of manslaughter and sentenced to two years in jail for the October 2016 trench-collapse deaths of two employees.
In a bit of wishful thinking, 2020 will be a year in which the industry and all stakeholders down the individual worker will aim to remedy mistakes of yesteryear by proactive approaches to erecting buildings safely and (structurally) soundly.