Damon Culbert from SMAS Worksafe explores how health and safety on construction sites is being managed and will be managed in the future amid the Covid-19 crisis
Though Covid-19 has forced the closure of countless industries and most people are now working remotely, construction sites around the country continue to operate. The government, Public Health England (PHE) and the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) have released guidance on social distancing specifically for those in the construction sector.
But following these rules will be challenging and the potential threat to people’s health is likely to be ever-present on sites for the foreseeable future. During this time, health and safety management will be vital and the industry will have to come together to deal with the mental and physical health difficulties of this pandemic.
PHE guidance on-site
The guidance released by PHE on social distancing on construction sites highlights a number of key strategies to help reduce the chance of infection transmission as much as possible while still allowing workers to continue with their jobs.
This guidance covers:
- Cleaning touchpoints and machinery – machinery with cabs like diggers should be kept clean and ventilated and always cleaned in between users to reduce the spread of infection.
- Cohorting – working in as small groups as possible with the same people daily will ensure that fewer people come into regular contact.
- Hand washing – washing hands before and after eating, after sneezing or coughing, after using public transport and as soon as you get home will all help to keep infection risks at a minimum.
As we understand more about this virus, these instructions could expand or be altered, so it’s important to check for updates and communicate these to all team members.
The challenges of following this guidance
Though this guidance is essential and must be followed as closely as possible to best protect workers’ health, following these instructions can be difficult, especially on-site.
With the nature of building work, regular hand washing can be difficult and hard to access. Identifying and monitoring common touch points can be difficult and minimal distancing can be almost impossible on some jobs.
The adherence to these guidelines and the safety of workers must be prioritised but without any further protections for companies who decide not to carry out work, many builders will still be going to work without following any of these rules.
The importance of health & safety management
For this reason, health and safety management will be an essential part of every worksite during the pandemic.
Site managers and health & safety leaders will need to ensure they are doing all they can to keep their staff safe. This will include keeping everyone informed of the social distancing rules, surveying the site often to identify challenging areas and leading by example at all times.
Ensuring employee buy-in and awareness
One of the biggest difficulties health and safety professionals face is getting all employees invested in the safety measures outlined on site but, with the advent of the coronavirus, more construction workers are willing to follow the health and safety guidelines as they are more aware of the direct impact on their health.
The heightened awareness of how safety measures at work protect us in a variety of different ways thanks to coronavirus could make it easier in the future for health and safety professionals to highlight the importance of following procedures which could result in fewer accidents and casualties at work even after the pandemic has subsided.
Mental health challenges
In addition to posing a threat to our physical health, coronavirus is also undoubtedly going to have an adverse effect on our mental health, no matter how directly we are affected by it.
Given the level of uncertainty in public life, the economic issues resulting from lockdowns and the risk to our health we face every time we go outside, anxiety and stress will be higher for most people. In an industry like construction which already faces a mental health crisis, this could be even more challenging and will take considerable monitoring and support.
The coronavirus pandemic highlights very clearly how important it is to look after both the mental and physical health of workers. Though we are likely to be preoccupied with the physical threat of the virus, it will be vital to deal with all aspects of how people will be affected in the coming months. During this time, it’s important to understand how mental health support is an essential part of health and safety management and take steps to provide for staff regularly.
In the current situation, health and safety in the construction sector will be challenging as everyone adapts to new ways of working and living through a time of such considerable uncertainty. For leaders in the industry, safety management has never been more important. To best protect staff and support them both mentally and physically, everyone will have to come together to keep everyone safe and protected as much as possible.
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