As we are in a second lockdown, many businesses around the country are working remotely again. But for many in the construction sector, working from home just isn’t an option. Here Andrew Jay, Group Managing Director of Anderson, one of the UK’s largest contractors and property developers, explains how it’s “above and beyond” approach to keep staff safe – on site and in the office – is rapidly being adopted across the industry.
Health and safety in construction has never been so important.
After all, at the height of the first lockdown, data from the Office for National Statistics found that there was a higher rate of deaths related to Covid-19 for people working in this sector than any other.
And so, when the government encouraged workers return in May, it became apparent that businesses working in the industry needed to understand how to make sites safe.
Protection is second nature in construction. We all wear hard hats, high visibility jackets and steel toe-capped boots.
But this sort of personal protection equipment doesn’t extend to safeguarding employees from an airborne virus.
In order to make our workplaces as safe as possible, we devised two test sites to experiment with the government guidance before we reopened all the others.
What we found was that the basic precautions to make a site “Covid secure” did not go far enough and so we started to adapt the rules to make them as effective as possible.
Site safety in a Covid world
One of the main concerns around returning to work was how workers could maintain safety through social distancing on construction sites.
We approached this by carrying out a review of how people move around the site, with a focus on entrances and exits.
We then reduced the number of workers on site at a time, introducing a one-way pathway round the outskirts of the site and ensuring we had Covid marshals available to keep on top of staff.
Exits and entrances can become bottlenecks at the start or end of a shift, so we took measures to reduce the amount of people in the space at the same time.
We stagger work breaks and start and finish times wherever it is practical and where possible we mix up internal and external trades.
On top of this, we looked at the hygiene requirements and, as well as providing hand sanitiser stations across the site, we installed outdoor sinks at all our construction sites, with strict limits to people using toilet areas.
We stopped supplying cutlery, plates and mugs and introduced outdoor eating areas as well as enhanced car parking provision to allow more employees to travel to and from work safely without having to car share or use public transport.
Many tasks have to be carried out with a hands-on approach which can be problematic when several people are required to lift or carry heavy goods.
We worked around this by expanding the use of lifting equipment such as spider cranes and high-capacity material lifts to access restricted areas and allow a single operator to lift and hold heavy items in position.
Communication is key
To date, we have invested £100,000 on safety equipment and to guarantee everyone understood the rules and what was expected of them, we re‐inducted every single member of staff back into the workplace.
Making sure everyone was aware of the importance of the social distancing and hygiene measures in place was critical and has meant the system has been a huge success.
Not only was the guidance given clear, it also provided a level of reassurance and demonstrated how serious we were about staff health and safety.
Although a lot of emphasis has been placed on site safety, we haven’t forgotten our office staff either.
In our entirely Covid-secure headquarters, we continue to move forward with the introduction of desk screens, have introduced two metres between each person and gone entirely paper-free.
On top of that, we are introducing a desk-booking system that allows people to book a desk each day with each one thoroughly cleaned before and after use.
Across our teams, the attitude to the changes has been one of positivity and resilience.
And what’s more, other companies in the sector have followed suit, copying our model.
We have had a number of contractors on site who have taken suggestions back to their teams to implement enhanced protocols and we have had some of our partners in property development ask for our policies to create the same structure for their workers.
We have been only too happy to provide this. As a sector we all need to have the best procedures in place to minimise the risk.
After all, an amazing 7.4% of the UK is employed in construction, it represents 17% of businesses and contributes more than £113bn to the economy.
In short, the construction industry is the backbone of the economy and if we are to survive and thrive as a nation past Covid and past the recession that will follow, its vital we keep workers safe and keep sites operational.