In January, when we were celebrating New Year’s Day with friends and family, who would have thought that in just a few short months the world would be brought to a sudden and almighty stop. The once busy streets have transformed into desolate ghost towns, as people retreated to their own homes in a collective effort to follow draconian health and safety regulations, that would prove vital in the fight against COVID-19.
Whilst for many industries the blanket delegation of essential or non-essential work was clear – the construction industry was somewhat left in limbo. Many organisations were left to make the call themselves on whether they should continue operations and if so, how this could be done safely and in a regulatory compliant way.
Here, we discuss:
MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION
For the first time in our 45-year history, we chose to close all our sites immediately after the Prime Minister’s announcement of a lockdown on 23rd March. Whilst it was the most difficult decision we have ever had to make – it absolutely was the right one. The welfare of our team, clients and community is of utmost priority to us and we knew we had a responsibility to ensure their safety by taking drastic action.
STAYING IN & REACHING OUT
With our teams working remotely, we turned our focus to charitable causes – including PPE donations to the NI Hospice – by partnering with the likes of The Woodland Trust and the Association of Project Management, to help support the community, environment, and profession through these uncertain times.
Members of our team – notably our Health & Safety Manager, Glenn Chambers, and Norma McKibbin, our in-house Occupational Health Nurse, also took to Twitter to answer questions from the public about COVID-19 and its impact on our health and the wider industry.
PREPARING FOR CHANGE
Whilst we have continued to support our clients with technical aspects of projects, we have also been busy making preparations for return to site, with a robust programme of new health and safety provisions that will be rolled out as part of ‘the new normal’ in construction. These include:
- A NEW COVID-19 SITE OPERATING PROCEDURE
We have developed a comprehensive COVID-19 Site Operating Procedure, alongside several site and task specific risk assessments. This was a collective effort by our entire team, who forensically examined construction tasks to see how they can safely operate whist maintaining physical distancing. Currently, we are supplying the updated documents to our contractors and are providing them with assistance to safely facilitate their return.
2. CLOUD-BASED INDUCTIONS
To help aid contactless induction training, we have invested in an online system to pre-induct contractors with key information before they arrive on site.
The system is live 24/7, so people can log in remotely at a time that suits them and on any device.
Changes to inductions can be made instantly, with inductees being notified of any updates via the app and given their own unique site access code once they have passed training. Features will also include medical alerts, text notifications and document sharing.
3. TRAVEL AND ACCOMMODATION
We have made provisions to safeguard our team while commuting to and from London as much as feasibly possible. These include issuing all site staff with travel advice, FFP3 face masks and hand sanitisers, and providing hire cars and rental accommodation that is within walking distance of site. England-based Site Managers will also be remobilised ahead of those based in Northern Ireland as a means of reducing travel. In addition to our own safety precautions, we have checked to ensure airlines are stepping up to their responsibilities and improving their operating procedures to ensure the safety of all passengers who board their planes.
4. PHYSICAL DISTANCING MARSHALS & TEMPERATURE CHECKS
Our Physical Distancing Marshals will be responsible for escorting and signing contractors on and off site, as well as ensuring everyone wears the correct PPE and is at least 2 meters apart. Where this distancing is essential, it will be controlled in accordance with an approved Risk Assessment / Method Statement and Permit to Work. We will also be rolling out daily temperature checks of anyone entering our sites before they are granted access.
5. SANITATION STATIONS & ONE-WAY SYSTEMS
We have invested in mobile sanitation stations for each site. Contractors will be required to regularly wash their hands for a minimum of twenty seconds (such as on entry and exit) and to sanitise work tools and workstations. Each site will then be thoroughly cleaned and new distancing measures such as signage, floor markings, one-way systems, welfare and PPE storage areas will also be installed.
6. STAGGERED START, FINISH AND LUNCH TIMES
Start, finish and lunch times will be staggered to help avoid congestion on site and maintain distancing. This will be managed by our own Physical Distancing Marshals, who are responsible for monitoring numbers and coordinating schedules.
DISTANCING WILL BRING US CLOSER
We know getting back to work is not going to be easy. It will be a new way of working for us all and we won’t be back to normal for a long time. However, with careful planning we can adapt to ‘the new normal’ and in a paradoxical twist – physical distancing will help to bring us together again, eventually.