Construction takes place in many locations, often without the general public present. However, many projects are completed in spaces where it’s not feasible to move occupants out while completing the work. When a space is occupied, unique challenges exist when it comes to getting work completed safely while minimizing any disruption in the health and productivity of the day-to-day occupants.
Today, we will look at the challenges presented when construction occurs in occupied spaces and tips for how to overcome them.
1. Maintaining Safety of Building Crews and Day-to-Day Users
Jobsite safety is always a top priority on construction sites. This priority increases when members of the general public will be or are expected to be nearby, and even more so if they’ll be occupying the same space as the construction crews.
Safety is established in a variety of ways, with most having a developed plan tailored specifically to each jobsite. Teams should consider all factors, including:
What is the location of the non-construction personnel?
- Do any existing walls separate them, or will a temporary wall or barrier be needed?
- Will work be occurring overhead? If so, what kind of protection must be erected?
- Is there a chance that debris could reach occupants?
What age and demographic are nearby?
- School aged-children or those with special needs may require extra precautions, such as hard-walled barriers.
- Incarcerated or mentally ill occupants may need hard-walled barriers that are unable to be weaponized in any way.
Are the nearby occupants going to be the same people each day, or are they members of the general population that differ on a daily basis?
- If occupants are in the space from day-to-day, more direct communication protocols can be established to determine entry points and walkways.
- If the space is designated for public use, such as an airport, zoo, or other public building, extremely clear barriers and signage must be erected to communicate effectively with passers-by.
In addition to considering the people in the building, contractors must have plans in place to protect the existing building elements and equipment. Spaces that include food manufacturing or healthcare facilities will have additional protocols required to protect products and/or patients. In Mission Critical facilities, safety of the existing mechanical systems maintaining servers is paramount.
Avoiding disruption and maintaining safety often hinges on reducing attractive nuisances. An attractive nuisance is anything on the project that is both dangerous and enticing to children. Examples include, but are not limited to: heavy machinery, fence climbing, scaffolding, and construction materials or debris. Project signs ( i.e., No Trespassing) are not generally considered preventative measures. To minimize these attractive nuisances, project teams must:
- Remove the hazard(s)
- Discard construction debris on a daily, if not hourly, basis
- Secure and obscure the hazard(s)
- Lock heavy equipment doors and/or remove keys
- Remove, store out of reach, or secure ladders
- Provide locked enclosures around scaffolding/stair towers
- Provide a fenced storage area for stored construction materials
- Ensure fencing includes driven posts to prevent displacement
- Consider opaque fence fabric along public areas
While production and quality are near the top of the priority list for every construction company, the safety of workers and occupants is the most important of them all. Great consideration should always be given to this topic to ensure that at the end of the day, workers and occupants all return home safely.
2. Minimizing Noise, Dust and Odors
Construction is inherently dirty, with saw-cutting and demolition procedures often generating dust and debris, activities such as paint and carpet installation generating odors, and more. Occupants are understandably averse to experiencing the effects of noise, dust and odor, requiring contractors to find ways to prevent these factors from affecting building users.
With special care, the noise, dust and debris can be minimized. Some strategies may include:
- Use wet-saw techniques and vacuums
- Enclose areas of demolition
- Utilize floor sweep products
- Cover vents with filters
- Utilize mechanical air scrubbers
- Schedule noisy activities for unoccupied hours
- Utilize hand tools in lieu of power tools
- Complete pre-fabrication efforts off-site and assemble onsite
- Schedule work windows where noise is allowed, accepted, and has been communicated with building users
- Utilize prefabricated wall systems such as Dirtt
- Utilize Low or No VOC products
- Utilize charcoal filters on mechanical systems
- Install negative air machines with air exhaust to the outdoors
A failure to prevent dust, noise and odor from interrupting building users can be inconvenient at best, and dangerous at worst. Containment of contaminants is vital in locations such as hospitals and other medical facilities. In office or school settings, dust, noise or odor can cause headaches or other symptoms, forcing lost work time by occupants in addition to inconvenience and possible pain.
3. Developing Effective Phases and Schedules
Safety, health and productivity are all optimized with proper planning. This includes phasing work areas, staging prep space, and creating effective schedules that account for maximizing work while minimizing disruption to occupants. Phasing plans and work schedules all tie into the larger site logistics strategy for a given project.
A variety of factors will play into this planning, including, but not limited to:
- Building work hours and occupancy levels
- The location of the construction work relative to occupants
- The complexity of the work:
- Can the work be completed in a single shift? Or must it be completed in multiple shifts over time?
- Will the work disrupt utilities that serve the building?
- Will the work take place directly above or around occupants?
- How much labor is required to complete the work?
As the saying goes, ‘Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance’. Planning for phasing and scheduling of the work is critical to maintain safety and productivity in occupied spaces.
4. Minimizing Utility Interruptions
A significant challenge when completing construction work in occupied spaces relates to modifying utility services such as plumbing, electrical, mechanical and fire protection systems, as well as security and low voltage. Let’s look at some examples of modifications to those systems and the simplified ways to minimize interruptions to existing operations:
Upgrade electrical service to add capacity.
This process requires shutting down the building power to add the new capacity to the system. Some options for minimizing the interruption might include:
- Preparing prior to a shutdown by coordinating an optimal time, usually off-hours. This shut down must be coordinated with, at minimum, the building occupants and owners/manager, the electrical utility company, and security company.
- Utilizing a temporary generator to maintain power to the building while the shutdown occurs.
Modify the fire protection system to add or remove sprinkler heads:
- Notify the fire alarm company to put the alarm system in ‘test’ mode during the work.
- Utilize personnel for temporary fire watch while the system is shut down.
There are many examples of means of minimizing interruptions during utility modifications. The most important steps in the process include extensive communication with all affected parties. These entities include the building occupants, ownership and/or management company, the utility company(ies) involved, all associated alarm companies and trade partners.
With extensive communication, the best path forward can be identified and implemented.
5. Coordination of Staging Areas and Materials Storage
In today’s tumultuous climate of long lead items and procurement challenges due to supply chain constraints, it’s more important than ever to ensure materials are procured on time to meet the schedule for the work. This may mean ordering materials earlier than previously required, and in turn, having a place to store them. The most ideal location is onsite to simplify logistics, but site constraints may prohibit this as an option.
Part of the preconstruction planning process for any project includes looking at the timing for materials procurement and where to store them upon arrival. The size and availability of space on a given site determines how much material can be staged in that location. When a building or space is occupied by the public, the options for storage are often more limited than on a vacant site. It’s not ideal for materials to be moved multiple times, so it may be more conducive to store them offsite and bring them to the job on a just-in-time basis.
As with all aspects of the site, planning for the storage and staging of materials must be done in conjunction with the building users to minimize the impact to their operations.
Proper planning is the key to solving all challenges related to occupied space construction. With proper planning, any challenges that arise during the work can be optimally navigated and solved in a manner that minimizes delays and interruption to building occupants.
Our teams are knowledgeable about the challenges involved in completing work in occupied spaces. If you’re considering a project, get in touch with us to discuss your options.