Coronavirus has held a huge question mark above the construction industry — and in many ways still does.
Should construction workers be classified as essential? Should low-priority building work still be carried out? What workplace measures should be taken to ensure that workers are protected from the risk of infection?
Much of this is unclear, leaving many site managers to use their discretion to decide whether to furlough staff, confirm site closures and grant contract extensions.
As a result, the construction industry has attracted a lot of press attention.
Journalists hone in on this job role during their daily press conference sessions and industry publications continue to campaign for clarity.
Some construction figureheads believe construction workers should be categorised as essential to legitimise their journey to work. Others have decided to halt work altogether, presenting a safer scenario for their workers yet leaving themselves vulnerable to a very different risk — site intrusions.
With construction workers accounting for 10% of total UK employment, this isn’t just an industry issue but an issue that we should all be aware of.
Can Construction Workers Go to Work during COVID-19?
In a recent announcement, the prime minister unveiled a plan to “reopen society” in which constructions workers were directly referred to. In this speech, Boris Johnson appears to say that construction workers should return to work so long as they can travel to work by bicycle, on foot or in a car.
Although this doesn’t give site managers a blanket rule for whether or not to “un-furlough” employees, it does give some sort of guidance as to whether the government thinks construction workers are safe on-site.
The consensus is that workers are allowed to go to their place of work — with suitable measures in place — provided they avoid congested, public transport as a means to travel.
How Can Construction Sites Be Made Safer and Adhere to Social Distancing?
If those that can travel to work without the aid of public transport are to return, construction sites need to be made safer to prevent the spread of infection.
Like any workplace hazard, risks should be audited by a responsible figurehead. The measures that you put in place for coronavirus should be monitored by the foreman.
The measures a foreman will oversee are:
- Keeping a recommended 2-metre distance — this could mean altering the way two-person tasks are carried out or leavin g these particular areas until it’s safe to carry out work.
- Clear signage — for clarity, construction sites should add coronavirus advice to their signage reminding workers to take personal responsibility for the cleanliness of tools and equipment.
- Stationed sanitisers — construction sites may now consider building a system, similar to a hospital, where hand sanitisers are placed at every entrance or unit of the site.
- Personal protect equipment (PPE) — in addition to the regular PPE construction workers are required to wear, PPE suitable for a pandemic should be made available to all workers and become mandatory.
- Health and safety refreshers — this is an ideal time for construction workers to refresh their knowledge on health and safety, especially if your company plans to add a coronavirus module temporarily to the training syllabus.
- Regular workplace breaks — in the interest of boosting your employee’s immune system you may want to grant more generous breaks that will also help to ease congestion on your site.
- Staggered shift patterns — if possible, try to keep your construction site open for longer periods with less staff active at each time.
In addition to these tips, always follow official guidance such as the government’s construction and other outdoor work COVID-19 advice and HSE’s social distancing advice.
How to Protect Vacant Construction Sites during COVID-19
Low-priority construction sites and sites with a high percentage of workers that rely on public transport may remain vacant.
These sites need to prioritise security measures to protect the area in the short-term.
Since COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in site intrusions. Despite the pandemic, empty properties and vacant areas still attract unwanted attention and visitors.
The cost of such activity could far outweigh the cost to put prevention measures in place. For example, you could be met with charges to repair damage, replace equipment, remove vandalism and even pay legal fees to remove squatters.
Instead, site owners should invest in specialist construction site security. This can range from innovative CCTV monitoring to sophisticated building site alarm systems. These short-term measures can help to save substantial sums of money and give you peace of mind throughout the whole ordeal.
To find out which security service is most effective for you, tell us a bit about yourself and your company. A security expert will get back to you for a full over-the-phone consultation.