How leading construction firms are coping with COVID-19

Industries that are still operating to deliver essential goods and services are clearly facing many issues related to keeping their people safe, well and able to get to work. Solutions to these challenges need not only to be effective, but simple and quick to implement to limit risks related to coronavirus.

How leading construction firms are coping with COVID-19

We have been talking with Health & Safety leaders within the construction sector to discuss the practical challenges of COVID-19 and importantly how they are rising to these challenges by changing behaviours and ways of working.

The challenges being faced by our clients

Geographical impact: regional v London-based projects

In regional projects and areas with lower populations, companies are able to implement staggered starts, which in turn helps to manage worker volumes, making it easier to maintain the 2m rule and stay open.
Projects located in London and other major conurbations, however, cannot orchestrate staggered starting very easily.

Availability of contractors

With many contractors and employees in self-isolation and others who simply don’t want to face the risks associate with attending sites, productivity is drastically reducing.
Working away from home 

For those who must travel a long distance to their workplace, the challenges are more complex, as now that hotels are closed, overnight accommodation options are very limited.  For HSE professionals, this is a common issue as there is often a need to cover multiple sites that are geographically spread.

Maintaining 2m rules 

Maintaining compliance with the 2m rule is more challenging in some projects and sites than others.  These challenges stem from various aspects, including activities that require more than one person, occupational health and welfare provision, and the size/shape of workspaces and access/egress routes.  Lastly, the reliance on public transport, especially outside of office hours can make it difficult to keep safe distances, especially for co-workers who are used to car sharing or relying on company – organised minibuses.

Managing behavioural change

One of the biggest challenges to effecting change is engaging workers with new ways of working and encouraging them to adopt these quickly and consistently do everything they can to maintain social distancing

PPE Shortages 

The nationwide shortage of appropriate PPE and cleaning equipment has rightly meant that the NHS and Government have intercepted supplies for medical and other key worker use.  Current supply simply cannot meet demand and access to this critical equipment will determine whether some operations can continue safely.

Rising to the challenges:  What our clients are doing

First and foremost:  follow government guidance

The most important thing is to first follow government guidelines and ensure that only essential work is being carried out. This will mean that honest and open conversations will need to be had with clients, contractors, employees and other visitors.

Shift rotations 

Rotating shifts has helped to reduce the number of workers on site, meaning it’s easier to manage the 2m rule and keep workers safe. 

Creating additional car parking 

Open areas on sites have been turned into a temporary parking area to give more space between cars. Logistics teams have been utilised as marshals to support this.

Ramping up cleaning teams on site

Cleaning staff has been increased, as well as regimes tightened and made more frequent, especially in areas that would be more susceptible to the spread of infection – eating/rest areas, small spaces and areas with lots of surfaces for example.

Collaboration:  Talk to site teams and sub-contractors

This is an unprecedented situation, and no one has the ideal solution, so businesses are bringing together site teams and sub-contractors to discuss the issues and come up with solutions together.  Never has there been a time when engagement with workers is more important.

Demobilising projects 

Where possible, projects have been demobilised with skeleton teams put in place. 

Establishing the correct mindset:  COVID-19 is here for a while yet!

As well as helping workers to adapt and psychologically cope with the new world we now find ourselves in, reinforcing the message that COVID-19 is here for the foreseeable future and not just a couple of weeks is also helping companies to plan more effectively and create solutions that will be maintained.

Providing clarity on the approval process

As a matter of course, risk assessments, hazard workshops and method statements are being reviewed in line with new ways of working to address the new risks associated with Coronavirus and related changes in legislation.  Companies need to ensure that there is a clear and effective approval path for change control and ongoing review of health & safety practices.

Categorising between critical and essential works 

Where work can be delayed until the pandemic ends, work has been deprioritised.  This is being determined on a risk-by-risk basis.
Managing the 2m rule 

Examples of maintaining compliance with the 2m rule include providing free sandwiches to minimise the use of kitchen equipment, reposition/build seating areas with the 2m rule in mind, adding tape to give guidance on spacing and painting circles in smoking areas that are spaced appropriately.

Changing/dry rooms

Whilst the need for meeting rooms has decreased, some businesses are converting these into changing rooms to space out the workforce when changing. 

Tackling behavioural change

Effectively communicating updated ways of working and making this as visual as possible (English is not everyone’s first language) is a key element of positively affecting behavioural change – for example, the use eye-catching colours and graphics on site posters will encourage people to read them.  Most importantly, leaders and supervisors must “walk the talk”, a basic but fundamental aspect of behavioural change management.

Learning from industries already working with pathogen-related risk

Understanding how companies already use PPE and implement cleaning regimes in dangerous environments such as contaminated waste and asbestos is helping some businesses to decide on their own ways of working.
Reassessing ways of working at the design stage

Going back to basics and reassessing site operations is enabling some businesses to spot new opportunities to reduce the spread of infection. This includes reducing the amount of people on sites, looking at different materials and reviewing what’s being done, and how it’s being done.

Writing risk assessments for all possible scenarios

HSE professionals are being asked to plan for all possible scenarios, write risk assessments for each scenario and recommend a course of action for each one.

Using the Furlough scheme

Employee welfare and protecting jobs is key across all businesses in this time of crisis and where possible the government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is being used to furlough employees. 

What have we learnt from COVID-19 so far?

Turning challenges into opportunities to move forward in the long term

There’s nothing like a crisis to drive businesses to re-examine what could put a stop to their operations and importantly, encourage more focus on working differently to further improve their occupational health and safety practices  -  not only to stand up to a temporary environment of increased risk but to carry forward beyond COVID -19.

Decisions to remain operational need to be based on the ability for appropriate controls to be implemented

Right now, the risk of spread of  coronavirus is extremely high and this will likely be the case for several months to come, so if protective measures such as appropriate PPE cannot be implemented or  social distancing can’t be achieved, either on a practical or behavioural level, then tasks should not go ahead.

Preserving health means preserving the economy

Up until now, too many businesses have focused on minimum compliance rather than striving for excellence in health and safety, leading to inadequate investment.  Going forward it is crucial that proper funding and priority is given to preserving health – which in turn will create a stronger economy and one which can stand up better in times of crisis.

 

Shirley Parsons Professional Services owns and operates Project Consulting, Talent Acquisition and Managed Services practices in the USA, the UK and Europe. We are engaged with renewable energy and technology companies, tier one contractors and programme managers in helping them deliver more profitable projects. Contact us today at response@shirleyparsons.com or 01296 611 300. 
 

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