What risks face construction sites post-COVID?

Although being outdoors minimises the risk, construction sites must still address the risk of COVID-19 among their staff.

As we move through what many hope will be the closing stages of the pandemic, we all must do our part to minimise risk and stop the spread of COVID-19. For employers, this means ensuring appropriate measures are in place to protect staff members, visitors and customers.

Most businesses, such as offices and factories, will have to focus their efforts on creating ventilation, social distancing and other precautions that lower coronavirus transmission. For outdoor workplaces, such as construction sites, the risk factors may look slightly different as the risk is lower when outside.

Surveyor on a building site

Despite the benefit of natural ventilation, it does not mean that construction sites do not need to have protocols to reduce the threat of COVID-19. It’s still essential that workers in this sector are encouraged to do their part to prevent outbreaks and keep their colleagues safe.

In this guide, we have looked at the risks facing construction sites and what can be done to ensure safety in these environments.

Social distancing

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower when outside and social distancing measures are now over in the UK, some of your workers may still prefer to keep their distance from others where possible.  Maintaining distance on a construction site can be challenging as there may not be set workstations that staff work at. However, you should still encourage workers to stay apart if they can, especially if there is a risk of COVID cases locally.

If you have any indoor areas on your site, such as portacabins, offices or show homes, you should implement social distancing in these areas. This includes ensuring people only work at their set desks or stations, limiting the number of people in any room at one time and asking workers to stay two metres away from each other.

For your staff working outside, consider placing them into different areas to work. If social distancing can’t be upheld, such as when multiple people need to work on one task, consider other measures such as masks to compensate for the reduced distance. You should also try to keep the number of individuals working nearby as limited as you can.

Communal areas

Next, you need to consider how to mitigate coronavirus spread in any communal areas you may have on-site. This includes breakrooms, toilets or any other facilities that staff members may share.

Most of these areas will be indoors, so you will need to ensure social distancing while in them. It may also be recommended to wear masks as an additional safety measure. Other options might include spacing seating and tables apart in breakrooms and blocking off toilet cubicles to encourage people to distance themselves from one another.

It may be worth placing capacities on communal areas so only so many people can enter at a time, depending on the space available. Encourage individuals to wait outside if the room is full or come back later.

Staggering breaktimes can also limit the number of people present in communal areas at one time, preventing a ‘lunchtime rush’ and reducing crowding at peak times. Similarly, you may choose to stagger arrival times for staff if they need to report to reception or a breakroom when they come onto site.

One-way systems will also be required to prevent people from crossing paths, especially when entering and leaving areas, and stop unnecessary contact.

Whatever precautions you decide to implement, you must communicate them to all workers. Use signage to showcase the protocol that needs to be followed and place it at key points on-site, so people are aware as they move around the workplace.

Visitors on site

Construction sites may experience a high volume of visitors. This could include deliveries, occasional workers (such as scaffolders, decorators, plasterers and so on), estate agents and even potential buyers who come to view progress. While there will likely already be a safety plan for these visitors to prevent harm, it will now need to address the threat of coronavirus too.

Try to stagger their arrival time for visitors to your site to minimise traffic. On top of this, you should keep track of who visited your site, at what time and who they may have been in contact with. If a positive case is detected from someone in the workplace, you can ensure that the necessary parties are informed and isolate if required.

You may also need to adopt specific processes, such as inbound and outbound deliveries to site. Delivery drivers often have to come into contact with a wide range of customers, so it’s generally recommended that they keep their distance where possible. Try to prevent your workers from helping to unload deliveries where possible or ask couriers to leave them in a designated area.

Finally, make sure any visitors are aware of the practices to follow. Signage around your site will help with this, but it may also be worth informing visitors when they arrive so they are fully aware.

Teamwork

Given the manual nature of construction work, there may be times when people need to work on the same task. This could include when lifting a heavy object or constructing a specific element of the building. In these instances, social distancing won’t be achievable.

You should aim to limit the number of people working together as much as possible while still enabling productivity and safety.

Builders working together

If you need to place people into teams, try to keep the same groups together in their own work ‘bubble’. This will restrict mixing between households in the workplace, which can curb transmission. It also means that if someone has to isolate, the knock-on effect should be limited to their team rather than wiping out your entire workforce.

In this spirit, you should try to minimise people’s car-sharing with those outside of their work bubble, including travel to and from work or going out for lunch. This will again help reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading across your workforce and limit the number of staff members close to one another.

Hygiene

In all settings, it is advised to practice good hand hygiene. By maintaining hand hygiene, individuals can reduce the risk of COVID-19 and other infections spreading through skin contact with others and surfaces.

Generally, hands should be washed after using the bathroom, before and after eating, and after someone who coughed or sneezed if it was into their hands. For construction workers, who may frequently get their hands dirty during the workday, it may be required more regularly, such as when moving from one task to the next or entering a communal area.

When hands are visibly soiled, which is likely to be the case in construction, it’s recommended to wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, taking care to cover the whole hand.

However, when hands aren’t visibly soiled, or there is no access to handwashing facilities nearby, you can utilise hand sanitiser. By investing in a hand sanitiser that kills germs, you can replicate the effects of adequate handwashing. This will be particularly beneficial if you have workers who move between sites or are based from vehicles.

Cleaning

Another way to reduce the risk of coronavirus is to ensure regular cleaning of the workplace. For a construction site, this will mean cleaning all communal and indoor areas at the end of every shift.

Man cleaning a drill

While you cannot clean outdoor settings, you should still seek to clean any equipment used by employees during the workday. This could include machinery, tools, protective equipment and so on, particularly if it is shared between workers. Equipment should be cleaned between uses to prevent germs from transferring from one person to another. You may also want to include cleaning of shared vehicles, such as work vans.

If an outbreak were to emerge into your workplace, you would need to hold a deep clean of all communal areas and equipment before welcoming anyone back onto site to ensure all coronavirus bacteria has been removed.

Testing

In your mission to eliminate the threat of COVID-19 and its potential disruption to your productivity, it is worth utilising workplace testing. By testing your staff regularly, you can identify any positive cases early on before it has a chance to spread.

You can set up workplace testing through third parties or by setting up an internal process. Alternatively, you can encourage your staff to get tested in their own time, either using a lateral flow kit at home or visiting a testing centre.

If a member of staff tests positive, has symptoms or needs to isolate because someone they’ve been in contact with has tested positive, it is vital that they feel comfortable in doing so. Make sure they are aware that they need to remain at home, and there are no penalties for doing so, such as reduced pay or performance warnings. This will prevent infectious parties from coming onto site and spreading germs.

Training

The pandemic has been a time of change for everyone, and every business has had to adapt in response to changing guidance and lockdown restrictions. While most of us know the guidelines we need to follow, it can be challenging to understand how that embeds itself in a working environment.

As such, you must support your staff as they learn to do their jobs against the backdrop of coronavirus. This means communicating process changes with them, providing the equipment they need and empowering them to take appropriate action.

Man smiling on a building site

Workforce training can help you to prepare your employees for the ‘new normal’ in your workplace. By accessing a tailored course that identifies the risk in your business and advises the best practice to take, in line with government guidance, you and your staff can learn what protocol should be moving forward and ensure compliance.

By following this protocol correctly, you can dramatically reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak and keep your staff safe.

Conclusion

Although lockdown restrictions have eased in recent months, the ongoing threat of coronavirus and its variants still loom. As such, employers will need to continue to implement appropriate measures to protect their staff.

By understanding the risks posed to construction sites, despite their outdoor setting, you can select the right processes to mitigate the danger. With good hand hygiene, cleaning, social distancing and testing, you will limit the possibilities of outbreaks.

Most importantly, you will enable your workers to feel comfortable doing their jobs, fuelling productivity and employee satisfaction while protecting their health.

If you need support in creating a COVID-secure environment on your construction site or other workplaces, we can help.

We can also provide solutions to assist you in your efforts, such as hand sanitiser.

Get in touch today to speak to a member of the team about how we can help you through this next stage of the pandemic.