State Recommends Private Providers To Ease Burden On Local Building Departments Amid Covid-19 Outbreak

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, cities and counties across the state have issued orders suspending the full or partial operations of “non-essential” or “non-life-sustaining” businesses.

The industry that already adheres to strict safety guidelines quickly responded by implementing additional safety precautions in an effort to prevent worker exposure and minimize the spread of coronavirus at project job-sites.

Nevertheless, the crisis has created delays in permitting and inspections for Construction and Development Projects. In light of the public health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, Building and Planning Departments across the state are scaling back operations and imposing alternative procedures for permit and inspection applications. Contractors and developers are struggling to understand and adapt to the new policies and limits forced on local governments, making the development process even more complicated.

The Associated General Contractors of America conducted a survey between March 17 and 19, asking members about the impacts that the Coronavirus has already had on them. The survey findings were announced on March 20th in the first of a series of webinars.

The survey revealed that 28% of the 909 respondents have had an owner, government agency or official tell them to halt or delay work on active projects or on jobs expected to start within the next 30 days. When asked about the reasons for project delays or disruptions, roughly one in five contractors (18%) cited shortages of required government personnel (whether to issue permits or certificates of occupancy, or to conduct inspections or lettings, or to make project awards) as the reason. The AGC’s webinars and Survey are available on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) page.

"The coronavirus pandemic has the potential to undermine what had been a very robust construction market, threatening the livelihood of countless workers and the viability of many firms,”

—Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist, during March 20 webinar

GUIDANCE FROM THE STATE

Contractors depend on local building departments and inspectors to begin new or continue existing projects. When looking to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) for guidance on State of Emergency Directives for Building Permits, Building Inspections, and Construction Job Sites, they were asked, “What are some best practices for local building departments to facilitate needed permits and inspections?” “Where needed, utilize Private Providers to ease the burden on staff.” was the departments recommendation of a best practice to be followed.

THE PRIVATE PROVIDER LAW

Florida Statute §553.791, signed into law in 2002, and commonly referred to as the Private Provider Law, authorizes the use of qualified engineering firms as private providers for state-required building code plan reviews and inspections on construction projects. By utilizing a private provider, owners can reduce project delays, resulting in significant time and cost savings.

GETTING BACK ON TRACK

Universal Engineering Sciences (UES) and GFA International, Inc. (GFA), two full service engineering firms offering services that include Building Code Compliance, Environmental Consulting, Geotechnical Engineering, Construction Materials Testing, Inspections, Facilities Consulting, as well as Industrial Hygiene and Health & Safety services have been the dominant providers of Private Provider Plan Review and Inspection Services since 2003. A recent merger of the two companies have made them a powerhouse with a combined workforce exceeding 1,200 highly skilled professional. UES and GFA have the largest pool of F.S. §468 plan reviewers, inspectors and master code professionals in the state to continually meet the demand for high-quality and timely service. Considered experts in their field, their team of multi-disciplined building code professionals have a thorough knowledge of the latest codes and code developments and a renowned reputation for superior client service. Universal Engineering Sciences and GFA International, Inc. are no strangers to assisting clients during emergency situations. UES and GFA have once again proven to be an asset to their clients whom they are currently providing Private Provider services. They not only enjoy the confidence of having a Top 500 Engineering Firm as their code compliance partner, but now they have a dedicated project team that offers the flexibility needed to meet deadlines and avoid project delays that may have occurred if utilizing the local building department during this Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic.

UES/GFA COVID-19 TRAINING PROGRAM

With the essential nature of our business, our field staff continues to work at ongoing construction job sites with enhanced safety measures in place. At UES and GFA, safety is more than just a priority, it’s woven into our corporate values. Our proactive approach protects the health and safety of our team so that we can continue to support our valued clients. Our efforts include:
  • The development of a detailed, company-wide Infectious Disease Control Plan and updated business continuity plan (BCP) to address the unique challenges posed by COVID-19.
  • Extensive communications to all our team members in line with World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance regarding minimizing the risk of infection, practicing effective hygiene measures, and avoiding heightened risk situations.
  • Appropriate travel restrictions and social distancing protocols. Many of our employees are working remotely.
  • As environmental health & safety consultants, our in-house Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIH) and Certified Safety Professionals (CSP) have developed a COVID-19 training program with the latest, most comprehensive and accurate information based on relevant OSHA standards and CDC guidelines. The program is available online to our field staff to ensure proper training and compliance with OSHA procedures and CDC guidelines. Topics include Hazard Communication, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Respiratory Protection, Blood Borne Pathogen, and Infectious Disease Control standards.

Universal Engineering Sciences and GFA International, Inc. are here to help get your project back on track.

If you would like more information about our Private Provider Services or our Health & Safety Consulting Services Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), please contact us today.

Alvarado, Francisco. “Social Distancing? Coronavirus Not Stopping South Florida Construction Projects – for Now.” The Real Deal Miami, 19 Mar. 2020, therealdeal.com/miami/2020/03/18/social-distancing-coronavirus-not-stopping-south-florida-construction-projects-for-now.
Bandell, Brian. “Miami-Dade County Permitting Office Closes after Employees Contract Coronavirus.” South Florida Business Journal, 25 Mar. 2020, www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/news/2020/03/25/miami-dade-county-permitting-office-closes.html.
“Building and Permitting.” Monroe County, FL – Official Website, www.monroecounty-fl.gov/149/Building-and-Permitting. Accessed 25 March 2020
“AGC COVID-19 WebED – The Latest Developments and Its Impact on the Construction Industry.” YouTube, uploaded by AGCofAmerica, 20 March 2020, https://youtu.be/iO4jF0Dc0Wk. Accessed 23 March 2020.
“Pandemic Has Halted Or Delayed Projects For 28 Percent Of Contractors, Survey Finds; New Senate Relief Bill Will Provide Some Help For Industry.” Associated General Contractors of America, 20 Mar. 2020, www.agc.org/news/2020/03/20/pandemic-has-halted-or-delayed-projects-28-percent-contractors-survey-finds-new.
DBPR – Frequently Asked Questions re: Building Permits, Building Inspections, And Construction Job Sites (03.20.2020), Department of Business and Professional Regulation – State of Florida, 2020/0320, http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/emergency. Accessed 23 March 2020

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