With the recent nationwide growth in oil and gas development, many of the small towns in West and South Texas are finding it very difficult to handle the huge influx of oil field workers coming into these areas. One of the biggest challenges is how to provide adequate housing for these workers and their families. Even though this influx is also putting a tremendous strain on the local schools and other infrastructure, many cities believe that this growth may be temporary so community planners and developers are less willing to invest the financial resources necessary to adequately expand their permanent residential neighborhoods. So far, the primary means of meeting the industries workforce housing needs has been through the use of temporary man camps.
This type of building solution brings with it a number of challenges and questions such as how do you classify and construct these man camps? Per the code, are man camps classified as a residential occupancy or are they commercial structures? All industrialized housing in Texas is defined as providing for the occupancy of one or more families, and must be built to the International Residential Code (IRC) which requires the buildings be placed on a permanent foundation. However the IRC is limited to a maximum of two dwelling units per structure – in other words it is limited at a duplex type dwelling. Modular building structures that are larger than a single or two family dwelling are considered multi-family type structures and fall under the requirements of the International Building Code. These facilities would not have to be installed onto a permanent foundation based on an Industrialized Building Code Council decision made in July of 1989. While the Commercial Modular Industry and the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) are in agreement that the buildings should be in compliance with the IBC, there are a number of work camps that have been developed using non-regulated buildings. These range from mobile homes and park model RV’s to non-code compliant modular skid buildings brought into Texas from other states.
Possibly the biggest challenge in the development of temporary man camps lies in the buildings being in compliance with the Texas Accessibility Standards (TAS). Logic would reason that housing provided within a secured compound and not for the general public, and which is strictly dedicated for workers whose essential job function mandates being able bodied, would be exempt from accessibility requirements. However, TAS does not recognize any exemptions from accessibility requirements for work camps used in oil and gas exploration. While some work camp providers are addressing these requirements, others are ignoring them altogether.
In order to provide a confident level of building performance and life safety, at this time the Modular Building Institute (MBI) has appointed a seven member task force whose main goal is assuring that only code compliant man camp facilities are offered in the Texas market. The MBI plans on working with the Industrialized Housing and Buildings division of TDLR to clarify the code requirements in order to achieve this goal. If there are areas that fall beyond the requirements as established by Chapter 1202 of the Texas Occupations Code, additional laws may need to be passed to better define and set limits for temporary man camps.
Roland Brown is Vice-President of Design at Ramtech Building Systems, Inc. He has worked in the modular construction industry for 35 years and currently serves as a member of the Texas Industrial Building Code Council which regulates the Modular Industry.