As lockdown measures begin to ease and construction sites reopen, how is the industry going to manage health and safety in these most challenging of times? Catherine Hill, National Commercial Manager & Area Operations Manager South at Peter Cox, helps provide some answers.
The construction industry has not been immune to the impact of social distancing measures, with many sites across the country reducing their output or closing altogether. According to the most recent figures from the ONS, it has been one of the harder hit occupational groups when it comes to the number of Coronavirus-related deaths. As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, the sector must do everything possible to ensure it mitigates risk to employees, customers and the general public on construction sites.
Throughout lockdown our team has followed stringent guidelines on all sites that have remained in operation in order to maintain hygiene standards and prevent cross contamination issues. We have also worked alongside Rentokil Specialist Hygiene in offering Coronavirus containment and control assistance services. This experience has served us well in protecting our team, onsite contractors and the wider community. Below are our top learnings for the industry to helping to ensure safety is prioritised on construction sites as lockdown measures are eased.
Risk assessment procedures
Before any work commences it is vital to ensure it’s as safe as possible for those working onsite and customers, and that the correct processes are in place. At Peter Cox, this process starts with the creation and authorisation of a Coronavirus Risk Assessment Report for each and every site.
This risk assessment report covers government guidance as well as the Construction Leadership Council’s Site Operating Procedures, assessing factors including hand hygiene, social distancing and the presence of vulnerable persons. This means that the use of washroom facilities, site access times and employee break times is different on each project, to ensure optimal safety precautions can be effectively maintained.
Hands are one of the principal carriers of harmful pathogens, with approximately 80% of all infections transmitted by them. So as well as ensuring teams have access to washroom facilities and adequate hand sanitiser while on site, it’ll also be important to encourage regular handwashing amongst workers with signage. A study of 100,000 people by Initial Washroom Hygiene in 2018 found that men may need to pay closer attention to this advice. Only 38% of men claimed to wash their hands after going to the toilet, in comparison to 60%. All of Peter Cox’s team members have completed the Rentokil Initial hand hygiene eLearning video training, and receive regular Coronavirus Operational Guidance Updates.
Protecting staff on site with RPE and PPE
It’s important all staff are protected with the right clothing before they enter a construction site. Best practice is to provide a face-fit test for all employees by an external qualified provider for their Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), which will ensure that the equipment they use is properly fitted to them. Peter Cox also has a clean-shaven policy to ensure RPE can work effectively, and we also satisfy all our legal duties as an employer.
All construction workers should wear additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while working. Minimum PPE on entering sites for our own employees will include safety glasses or goggles, a disposable mask, latex gloves and safety boots, with additional ‘task-specific’ requirements for further PPE, such as half or full face respirators and heavy duty gloves. The health and safety of workers and that of the local communities which construction professionals serve must always be the priority, and this protective equipment is designed to ensure work is completed in the safest way possible.
Maintaining social distance is a key way to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus. At Peter Cox we encourage colleagues to travel to and from work in individual vehicles, and once onsite all team members look to maintain a two-metre distance from each another. Where this distance is not possible, the appropriate PPE is worn to protect the team. On top of this, it’s important to have cleaning measures in place onsite throughout the day. For example, all mechanical equipment should be wiped down after use, and all colleagues supplied with large quantities of hand sanitiser.
Specialist disinfection services
Peter Cox works with its sister business Rentokil Specialist Hygiene to support customers and ensure we have the most stringent and advanced disinfection procedures in place. This means technicians and surveyors can advise on specialist disinfection services, and the specific disinfection services required in different communal areas, meeting rooms and vehicles.
All workers have the appropriate PPE, RPE and specialist disinfection equipment to effectively treat a site that has had a confirmed or suspected case of Coronavirus, or to undertake an all-purpose disinfection service prior to employees returning back to a site.
The construction industry is vital to the nation’s economy and it’s important to get the industry back up and running. But safety is even more important. To keep both workers, customers and the community safe, teams should look to implement thorough risk assessments – including social distancing where possible as well as ensuring all staff members have the appropriate PPE and RPE available. By taking every precaution, the construction industry will be able to continue their essential work safely and responsibly as lockdown eases.