Construction Sites during COVID-19
The Caribbean building trade is defined by camaraderie. You seldom experience quiet with crews working, sharing and socialising in the spirit of ‘getting the job done’, while getting through the day. However, it could easily be viewed as being at odds with the general health guidelines to protect us all against the COVID-19 virus.
So as to stay informed and ahead of the curve, we decided to review specific construction industry protocols, to better understand the accepted critical impact points within daily operations on an average building site, in the teeth of the ‘new normal’.
The following information is comprehensive and should be viewed as a basis for creating protective measures, which can be applied to all kinds of building sites, regardless of size, when in many cases, they are able to reopen.
In doing so we fully respect individual regional Government’s Health directives, issued by their Chief Medical Officers, which all construction companies and developers should be guided by in the first instance.
When operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, construction sites need to ensure the protection of their workforce, to minimise the risk of infection and contagion, while establishing a new and effective consistency of operations.
In many ways, these crisis ‘responses’ may well become the eventual commonplace template for an industry which is, in essence, hands-on.
It is a fact that in this COVID-19 environment and moving forward, precise site management and increased cleaning and supervisory staff will be key to maintaining standards and protocols, to allow superior sanitisation and working practices to thrive.
Primarily, anyone who meets one of the following criteria should not come to the site:
- Has a high temperature or a new persistent cough (follow the guidance on self-isolation)
- Is a vulnerable person (by virtue of their age, underlying health condition, clinical condition or are pregnant).
- Is living with someone in self-isolation or a vulnerable person.
Eligible workers should encounter site operating procedures, closely managed and monitored, focusing on the following areas:
- Strict adherence to safety clothing.
Current health and safety standards include protective headwear, footwear, industrial clothing and gloves, with the use of face masks and eye protection for some trades.
Augmenting these to COVID-19 protocols, would include all workers be protected by face masks while on site, plus plexiglass visors for closer contact environments.
- Social distancing.
This is the basis of anti viral protection, with a minimum of two meters between workers. Some trade functions, albeit temporarily, should be viewed as ‘closer contact’ and require, as common practice, more extreme masking and eye protection, combined with sanitisation pre and post construction.
There are, however, jobs which require such close contact that they would place the participating workers at extreme high risk to exposure. These should not be undertaken in pandemic conditions.
- High Risk
Normally extremely high risk work may place a potential undue burden on emergency services and if possible, should be avoided.
- If someone falls ill, on site.
If a worker develops a high temperature or a persistent cough at work, they should return home immediately, avoid touching anything, cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.
They must then follow the guidance on self-isolation.
Management, in turn, should review the worker’s direct contact tracing and should report this to associated health professionals.
The employee should not return to work until their period of self-isolation has been completed and reviewed by a medical professional.
- Site access points.
The reduction of site access points will limit contact risk, especially by all non-essential visitors.
The use of staggered start and finish times, will reduce congestion and contact.
Practice social distancing and remove or disable entry systems that require skin contact e.g. fingerprint scanners on more sophisticated sites.
Require all workers to wash or clean their hands before entering or leaving the site. There should be plenty of space (two metres) between people waiting to enter site.
Regularly clean common contact surfaces in reception, office, access control and delivery areas e.g. scanners, turnstiles, screens, telephone handsets, desks, particularly during peak times.
Reduce the number of people in attendance at site meetings and consider holding them outdoors wherever possible with appropriate social distancing and masks.
Dependant upon the stage of the building work, shut off areas which do not require access, internally or externally, reducing daily cleaning and management.
Drivers should remain in their vehicles if the load will allow it and must wash or clean their hands before loading or unloading goods and materials.
- Hand Washing
Ensure soap and fresh water is readily available in regularly cleaned hand washing facilities and kept topped up at all times.
Provide hand sanitiser where hand washing facilities are unavailable.
Provide suitable and sufficient rubbish bins for hand towels with regular removal and disposal.
Sites will need extra supplies of soap, hand sanitiser and paper towels and these should be securely stored.
- Toilet Facilities
Restrict the number of people using toilet facilities at any one time, e.g. managed by a fully protected or screened attendant.
Wash hands before and after using the facilities.
Enhance the cleaning regimes for toilet facilities particularly door handles, locks and the toilet flush.
Portable toilets should be avoided wherever possible, but where in use these should be cleaned and emptied more frequently.
Provide suitable and sufficient rubbish bins for hand towels with regular removal and disposal.
- Travel to Site
Wherever possible workers should travel to the site alone using their own transport.
Issues for consideration are:
- Parking arrangements for additional cars and bicycles.
- Other means of transport to avoid public transport
- Providing hand cleaning facilities at entrances and exits.
soap and water wherever possible or hand sanitiser if water is not available.
- How someone taken ill would get home.
- Eating arrangements
Canteens and sit down eating arrangements have been suspended in most territories. It is therefore appropriate to utilise self supplied, take away, or preprepared and individually packaged drinks and meals.
- Kettles, microwaves etc. should be removed from use.
- The workforce should also be required to stay on site until the end of their shift, removing the risks associated to temporary exit from the site, purchase and exposure in local shops and site reentry.
- Dedicated eating areas should be identified on site to reduce contamination, with distancing protocols.
- Break times should be staggered to reduce congestion and contact.
- Hand cleaning facilities or hand sanitiser should be available on entering and leaving the designated eating area.
- Workers should sit 2 metres apart from each other whilst eating and avoid all contact.
- Payments should be taken by contactless card wherever possible, as a wage deductible or as a no cost service to employees.
- Standard reusable crockery, eating utensils, cups etc. should not be used.
- Drinking water should be provided with enhanced cleaning measures of the tap mechanism introduced.
- Tables should be cleaned between each use.
- All rubbish should be put straight in the bin and not left for someone else to clear up.
- All areas used for eating must be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each break and shift, including chairs, door handles, vending machines and payment devices.
Changing Facilities, Showers and Drying Rooms
- Introduce staggered start and finish times to reduce congestion and contact at all times.
- Introduce enhanced cleaning of all facilities throughout the day and at the end of each day.
- Consider increasing the number or size of facilities available on site if possible.
- Based on the size of each facility, determine how many people can use it at any one time to maintain a distance of two metres.
- Provide suitable and sufficient rubbish bins in these areas with regular removal and disposal.
- Enhanced cleaning procedures should be in place across the site, particularly in communal areas and at touch points including:
- Taps and washing facilities
- Toilet flush and seats
- Door handles and push plates
- Hand rails on staircases and corridors
- Lift and hoist controls
- Machinery and equipment controls
- Food preparation and eating surfaces
- Telephone equipment
- Key boards, photocopiers and other office equipment
- Rubbish collection and storage points should be increased and emptied regularly throughout and at the end of each day
- Non-essential physical work that requires close contact between workers should not be carried out.
- Work requiring skin to skin contact should not be carried out.
- Plan all other work to minimise contact between workers.
- Re-usable PPE should be thoroughly cleaned after use and not shared between workers.
- Single use PPE should be disposed of so that it cannot be reused
- Stairs should be used in preference to lifts or hoists
- Where lifts or hoists must be used:
- Lower their capacity to reduce congestion and contact at all times.
- Regularly clean touch points, doors, buttons etc.
- Increase ventilation in enclosed spaces.
- Regularly clean the inside of vehicle cabs and between use by different operators.
Inconsistency of Implementation
- If a construction site is not consistently implementing the measures set out in the Site Operating Procedures, or any officially agreed protocol, it may be required to shut down,
to protect all parties concerned.
- Once established standards are met, the site would then be safe to operate and reopen.
- Only absolutely necessary meeting participants should attend.
- Attendees should be two metres apart from each other.
- Rooms should be well ventilated / windows opened to allow fresh air circulation.
- Consider holding meetings in open areas where possible
Our provision of information is designed to better inform our industry professionals and customers and bring elements of our sector into focus.
This is a news article, not intended, at any point, to contradict or supersede official government directives in separate states, throughout the Caribbean region.
Please refer to local standards and protocols accordingly, prior to taking appropriate action.
- Our information for this article was primarily derived from the Site Operations Report, produced by Build UK, the leading representative organisation for the UK construction industry, The Construction Leadership Council, whose objective is to drive construction industry improvement and pbctoday.co.uk, a leading UK Planning, Building and Information Modeling & Construction publisher, supplying timely, current, diverse and professionally researched information to the construction sector. It was prepared, taking into consideration our regional environment.
NB. This article is for general information purposes only and is meant as an incentive to the reader, who should then research and seek advice from their architectural and construction professionals to confirm that the ideas expressed are possible within the building codes of their territory or within the limitations of their home's architecture. ECMIL only recommends their own products and third party products which they supply, as part of their company's roofing solutions to customers.