Installation Challenges Abound: Flooring industry experts share tips for contractor business navigating a tough year - May 2021

By John McGrath Jr.

More than a year into the pandemic, installation protocols continue to evolve and so too must the flooring contractor businesses. To help navigate the changing flooring installation standards, commercial floorcovering contractors, INSTALL instructors and Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) specialists share some advice that businesses can leverage right now.

What new protocols can help flooring contractors’ installers stay safe while maintaining profitability?
Tom Sheridan, principal at PCI Flortech in Addison, Illinois, recommends conducting weekly meetings to review safety topics with everyone on the jobsite. He says, “To stay current, my team is required to review new protocols with our installers within a week of receiving the information. That keeps our jobs safe, on time and on budget.” PCI Flortech has been in business for over 30 years as a leading floorcovering installer for healthcare environments.

For example, Sheridan notes that workers in Chicago-area healthcare facilities are required to be double-masked now, and sanitization stations are necessary throughout the jobsite. He also points out that the separation between the various trades and their work areas are very distinct. He adds, “We have to carefully maintain social distancing while on jobsites and often have to run double shifts because of decreased workers allowed on the site. It’s a constant learning curve as we progress through the pandemic.”

Covid-19 procedures often vary from jobsite to jobsite, making it important to keep your team on the same page, according to David Meberg, president and CEO of Consolidated Carpet, one of the nation’s largest commercial floorcovering contractors. He says, “If your crew is on three different jobsites in a week and all of the facilities require different protocols, it can be difficult to ensure your installation teams are compliant, making open and often communication of utmost importance.”

How is the design and construction industry leveraging the latest advancements in ICRA protocols to keep installers and occupants safe?
Implementing ICRA on all job sites-not just in occupied healthcare facilities-is the future of the floorcovering industry. Says Sheridan, “The focus of ICRA is to ensure the health and safety of the trades on the job and occupants. With ICRA slowing becoming a requirement across the country, employing ICRA training will help contractors win more bids.”

Julie Judd, head of business development and interior design services at Master Craft Floors in Plymouth, Michigan, also emphasizes that more specifiers are writing ICRA into specifications making it imperative for flooring contractors to adopt ICRA training in order to stay competitive. She says, “It’s critical to remember that no job is an island, and infectious disease can be transmitted easily from the jobsite to another location. Specifiers can require practices that keep everyone working consistently, which underscores the importance of ICRA protocols.”

In addition, she sees a shift in product specification. Judd says, “Designers must branch beyond aesthetics and put a greater focus on selecting products that meet the increased demand of sanitation requirements. Resilient and hard surfaces are hygienic, withstand different types of disinfectants, provide ease of maintenance and more.”

Tom Lutz, a labor board member on the INSTALL committee from the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters, also points out that specifiers have an opportunity to require the proper training of installation crews, including Covid-19 awareness. He says, “Make sure it is included in the specification so that everyone who works on a particular job site has proper, certified training.”

What can help other flooring contractor business owners navigate this new working environment?
Judd advises contractors to prepare before there is a crisis, “Verifiable, quality training is a value, and this rings true now more than ever. Companies that utilize ICRA and INSTALL training rebounded quicker after quarantine and had immediate access to updated training.”

And Sheridan believes ICRA will become more well-known and required in commercial industries outside of healthcare. She says, “If we carry ICRA protocols into other job sites, it will make clients in non-healthcare situations feel more comfortable.”

In addition to proper training and providing installers with personal protective equipment (PPE), Meberg encourages construction managers and owners to be aware of local government regulations. “You can never communicate enough,” he says. “There is a lot of uncertainty about changes in protocols from month to month, so it is very important to keep open lines of communication to ensure you are looking out for the best interest of your installers.”

How has Covid-19 impacted your business, and how have you adapted?
Sheridan is keeping a close eye on how Covid-19 vaccinations will play into flooring installation for the healthcare industry. He expects installers will have to provide vaccination records to work on healthcare job sites.

Judd advises flooring contractors to stay up to date with rigorous training because it prepared them for Covid-19 well before lockdown started. “We work primarily in the healthcare industry,” says Judd. “We came back to work quickly and safely because we already had the proper training in place and were able to implement Covid-19 protocols easily because our crews were already trained in ICRA.”

Lutz says, “The United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) created a virtual Covid-19 awareness training program that is available to anyone in the building trades, including in-house teams and warehouse staff. Most importantly, the training programs are available nationwide to all contractors, enabling them to navigate Covid-19 protocols.”

Meberg recognizes that Covid-19 protocols are moving targets. That is why his number one piece of advice for other flooring contractors is to adapt by adopting additional training to ensure that job sites are safe and functional.

How has floorcovering training evolved?
One of the Carpenters Training Institute’s main objectives is educating apprentices on how to stop the spread of Covid-19. “We have protocols in place that enforce safety,” explains Tracy Yanske, a floorcovering instructor for Carpenters Training Institute-part of the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, encompassing a six-state region in the northern Midwest. “Students are required to wear face masks and social distance while in the training center. They can’t be closer than six feet for more than 15 minutes. We have plastic walls in between students during hands-on training and enforce frequent sanitation.” Students must also complete the online Covid-19 training course before coming to the training center. Passing this assessment is mandatory to join in-person classes.

“We’ve had to get creative with spacing. Prior to Covid-19, we had large-scale training areas, which have been downsized and adapted for individual use,” says Yanske, who is a full-time OSHA, ICRA and floorcovering instructor. “Fortunately, we have been able to keep class sizes the same-ten students or less.”

Although the Carpenters Training Institute has returned to in-person classes, it has also gone virtual. Teachers are equipped with GoPro cameras and are able to instruct students over Zoom. “We’ve digitized books for online use and converted tests to be conducted virtually,” added Yanske.

As for Covid-19 safety on the job site, Yanske tells all students that they should consider everything a potential contaminant. Aside from wearing masks at all times, students are instructed to avoid watercoolers or sharing food.

At the start of the pandemic, Sheridan received a late-night phone call from the Army Corps of Engineers. Their request? They needed flooring installed in a new medical facility that would serve as a hospital for overflow Covid-19 patients in Chicago. He says, “It was a six- to eight-week project that needed to be completed in three weeks, encompassing 25,000 square feet. The turnaround time was so tight that the government sent the National Guard to pick up the flooring product to have it there in time.”

Judd adds that the Beaumont Health Neuroscience Center Pediatric Clinic in Royal Oak, Michigan is the most memorable pandemic project for Master Craft Floors. The cutting-edge facility’s design called for installers to hand cut 16,000 square feet of wood-look luxury vinyl tile flooring to create detailed patterns, including colorful inset radius designs and flowing curves that replicated the ceiling details. She says, “Due to Covid-19 regulations they restricted the number of tradespeople allowed on a jobsite at one time, we had to work in much smaller installation teams. Even with the manpower limitations, we were able to meet all deadlines set by the general contractor.”

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