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Safety on Construction Sites In The Time of COVID-19

Safety on Construction Sites In The Time of COVID-19

21 days ago By Emily Harris
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Safety has always been a challenge on construction sites due to the nature of the work; there’s a lot of heavy lifting, working at great heights and using potentially dangerous tools on a day-to-day basis. In fact according to Safe Work Australia, 13% of total serious compensation claims were made by workers within the construction industry while in 2018, the industry had the highest number of workplace fatalities. These statistics demonstrate how important safety is within a construction site and why investing in Health, Safety, Environment and Quality (HSEQ) is integral to not only the site’s overall productivity but the wellbeing of all workers.

This year COVID-19 and the significant changes it’s caused to the working landscape has meant the responsibilities of Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) have doubled. Unlike other industries that can easily transfer their systems and processes online and work consistently from home, there’s a big portion of the construction industry that are required to be onsite for buildings and major projects to be completed. This has posed a significant challenge, especially when strict physical distancing restrictions were put in place.

Unlike an office, there are also many potential covid-related risks that are unique to a construction site including the use of shared tools or equipment, travelling in personnel hoists or lifts and work which requires employees to be in close contact with others. Consequently, HSRs have had to develop strategies to either eliminate or minimise these risks without severely impacting on the worksite’s productivity, as the industry is still an important player in rebuilding Australia’s economy. Other worksites, particularly in Victoria where COVID restrictions have been most severe, have had to temporarily stop construction work in order to maintain the safety of their workers.

Health experts and government officials have advised for construction sites to follow additional safety measures during this time including:

  • Face coverings in the workplace
  • Screening ‘at risk’ employers or visitors entering a site
  • Workplace mapping so that employees (including contractors) work schedule and locations can be recorded to improve traceability
  • Avoiding the shared use of tools, equipment and personal protective equipment and where this is not possible, provide cleaning materials for each tool, so they can be thoroughly cleaned before re-use
  • Increase the level of cleaning undertaken of all work, transit and communal areas
  • Mark out hoist floors to identify where employees should stand or queue to maintain physical distancing and stagger which floors hoists can be used for or develop a schedule to use the hoist, to avoid overcrowding.

There’s a lot to consider and ultimately how HSRs should implement these measures will depend on the needs and operations of each construction site. To help navigate this process, Design & Build caught up with HSEQ Manager Sorcha Brennan who has extensive experience in workplace health and safety and now works at Roberts Pizzarotti. She discusses the challenges COVID-19 presents and her recommendations for keeping workers safe onsite:

Social distancing on construction sites aims to minimise the spread of COVID-19. What’s the best practise for construction workers to follow this protocol?

There are a number of practices that can be implemented on construction sites to support social distancing. Some of these practices include:

  • Remove/reduce the number of tables and chairs in crib sheds to ensure people are 1.5m apart and consider obtaining additional crib sheds. 
  • Split teams and stagger their meal breaks and pre-start times to limit large groups of people in one place.
  • Limit non-essential visitors to site and where possible use technology instead of face-to-face meetings.
  • Consider working flexibly for those site personnel that may be able to work from home.

Construction work inevitably requires regular touching of objects and surfaces. This means that usual cleaning schedules on construction sites will need to be increased. What’s your advice for increasing construction site hygiene levels?

My advice would be to minimise touch points (e.g. keep doors open) and obviously increase cleaning frequency. Provide ample soap, hand sanitiser and paper towel across the site and provide alcohol or detergent wipes for personnel to wipe down plant, machinery, and equipment touch points. As well as providing P2 masks for all workers.

It’s important that workers are kept well informed during these tough times, what topics should be covered daily in toolbox talks and can you recommend any resources for HSE Managers/ Site Managers to acquire?

Toolbox talks should cover the facts in relation to COVID-19, explain what protective measures around large group hygiene have been implemented and also discuss where personnel can find further support within the organisation if they are anxious or worried. As a health & safety professional, it is important to refer to the Australian & NZ Government websites for accurate information and updates on COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is also a valuable source of information. (Please see links at the bottom of this page)

What are some issues facing health & safety professionals during these times?

Media coverage can sometimes create unnecessary anxiety in situations like these and I have no doubt that there will be health and safety professionals amongst many others on construction sites who are providing support to many people while still doing their usual day to day role. Being in an essential industry is challenging in itself as you have to keep going in times when things are so uncertain.

What advice would you give to health & safety professionals who are struggling with the pressure of the current climate?

Keep moving forward and remember we are one industry, lean on your support networks if you need them. We will come out the other end.

Increasing Demand for Health and Safety Representatives

The construction industry is one of the pillars of the Australian economy, and as evidenced in the 2020 Federal Budget announced this week, it will play a significant role in stimulating the Australian economy over the next year. The Government have already announced they will be investing $14 billion in new and fast-tracked infrastructure projects, including bringing forward $7.5 billion of spending on road and rail projects, a new $2 billion investment in road safety upgrades and $1 billion for local councils to upgrade roads, footpaths and street lighting. They have also created a $688 million HomeBuilder scheme, which gives cash grants for people to renovate or build new homes.

These initiatives aim to invigorate building across the country however, with no immediate cure to COVID in sight, for construction sites to continue running, they require quality HSRs to ensure workers are kept safe. Not just in regards to the standard occupational risks on a worksite but also in regards to maintaining COVID-19 safe practices. Even before the pandemic, Work Place Health and Safety was considered a highly in-demand field. According to the Australian Government's joboutlook.gov.au, 36,000 professionals were predicted to be employed in Australia by 2022. Of course, COVID-19 has altered employment predictions across the board, but with safety precautions and compliance now playing such an integral role in business operations, the demand for HSRs within the construction industry is only expected to grow.

HEALTH AND SAFETY JOB OPPORTUNITIES

HSEQ Manager

Location: Sydney

Contract Type: Permanent

Salary Package: $170-200k

Job Description: The successful applicant would be working for a leading Australian owned construction company with over 20 years of experience who’ve built a solid reputation for delivering successful, & award winning projects. As a business they are committed to ensuring they meet the highest standards of safety across all sites and are looking for a HSEQ Manager to help drive this commitment.

Click here for more details

WHS Coordinator 

Location: Sydney

Contract Type: Permanent

Salary Package: $85-$95k

Job Description: Work for a leading residential home builder with over 20 years of experience across NSW. Having developed an outstanding reputation for building beautiful homes and long standing relationships, they are ranked as one of NSW's top home builders. They are looking to hire an experienced WHS coordinator to oversee the construction of roughly 20 residential homes across the Northwest and Western Suburbs, you will be working in a site based role and reporting into the construction manager. 

Click here for more details

CONTACT US

To find out more about the roles listed above, or to reach out for a confidential chat about the job market and upcoming health and safety opportunities within residential and commercial construction, you can contact us here: info@designandbuild.com.au

For more advice on ensuring the safety of employees while on construction sites, visit Safe Work Australia. They have created some dedicated resources for workers during COVID-19, as part of Safe Work month this October. 

 You can also visit the Australian Government website and the World Health Organisation for COVID-19 updates.

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