The construction industry is one of the very few that has not been all-but-closed down from the effects of the Covid-19 virus, so with sites still open for business it’s important to pay attention to the Government requirements about how to work safely and avoid potential infection.
The number of workers on a construction project can vary widely between projects but any time workers work closely together, it increases the risk of exposure. Managers and workers must do everything that is reasonably practicable to keep a safe physical distance apart (at least 1.5 metres) while onsite.
If you are the manager or controller of a worksite, you must design and implement control measures that will minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19, as well as continue to implement work health and safety measures. This includes developing safe work method statements where necessary to ensure tasks are carried out with minimal risk to workers.
How do you manage the risks of exposure while working on site?
Probably the most important, and possibly most challenging, measure on a construction site is physical distancing. With many tasks requiring more than one person, sometimes even a team of people, keeping a safe distance between workers requires some planning.
While implementing the safety zone will be different for each construction site, you can reduce the risk of exposure by:
- Limiting physical interactions between workers, clients and visitors to a site, for example deliveries, and use technology to communicate rather than have face-to-face meetings.
- Reduce the ways workers can come in contact with others by splitting shifts if possible, separating workers around a work site, reduce the types of tasks that require people to be in close proximity to each other and if possible, send work offsite to be completed.
- Create pathways between the various areas of a work site to keep people at a safe distance as they move through various areas. If possible, avoid using lifts and hoists, encourage workers to walk up and around a build, but if workers then use stairs, ensure the risk of falls is minimised.
- Have toolbox meetings via online apps and encourage workers to email or message non-urgent issues to be addressed by management.
- Create safe spaces for workers to have rest and meal breaks where they won’t need to congregate in one place, and leave any non-essential training to another time.
- Consider nominating one worker to help manage physical distancing onsite, and make sure they work in conjunction with any nominated work health and safety officers.
Healthy workers make for safe workers
It’s important for workers to be aware of the symptoms of Covid-19 and to know what the expectations are if they feel they might be sick.
- Ensure you have clear and precise information around the work site so everyone is informed
- Direct all workers to report immediately to their supervisor if they are experiencing any symptoms, if they have potentially been exposed to someone diagnosed with Covid-19 or if they have undertaken any travel
- Any worker displaying symptoms should be sent home immediately to be tested or assessed by a medical professional.
The very nature of a construction site means that many surfaces are touched and retouched by workers. Keeping the site clean and tidy is even more vital now, to minimise the risk of any infection. Increasing your current cleaning regime should be considered.
- Any plant, equipment, handrails, doors, lifts, hoists or materials should be cleaned regularly using appropriate agents, ideally before and after use.
- Personal items, tools, PPE etc should be cleaned with sanitiser or alcohol wipes before and after use.
- Importantly, site amenities, lunchrooms, change areas, bathrooms, drinking facilities and any other communal areas should be frequently cleaned with industrial strength products to keep any transfer potential to a minimum.
- If safe, consider propping open doors and access ways to avoid unnecessary touching.
- The provision of closed bins should be introduced onsite for workers to correctly dispose of waste such as used tissues, single-use items like cups and plates and hand sanitiser should be available throughout the workplace.
- Any worker undertaking cleaning duties needs to wear gloves and use hand sanitiser before and after cleaning
- If the site is indoors, consideration should be given to reducing recirculated air conditioning.
While it should go without saying, workers should be doing whatever they can to minimise the spread of germs and disease. They should be practising high standards of personal hygiene both at home and at work. This includes:
- coughing and sneezing into a tissue (to then be disposed) or their elbow
- washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet
- using alcohol-based hand sanitisers
- cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
- washing body, hair (including facial hair) and clothes thoroughly every day
- staying more than 1.5 metres away from others, and
- staying home if sick
- avoid touching their face
- not making contact with others ie no hand-shaking
Deliveries to a site
Any non-essential visits to a work site should be cancelled and only deliveries of materials or essential items should be allowed.
Even then, clear instructions should be available to any visitor and they must be encouraged to follow any orders given regarding cleaning, personal hygiene and access limitations.
Minimise the number of workers who need to be in contact with deliveries and where possible, direct drivers to remain in their vehicles during unloading, unless they are required to physically unload (ie using a crane) the materials themselves.
Use electronic signatures or other alternatives to physically handling paperwork.
Consultation with workers
As with any safety risk to workers onsite, it is vital they are made aware of the procedures and expectations of them around any issue that may arise.
Workers must be kept updated on any issues relating to Covid-19 and they must be consulted before any new measures are implemented. Other duty-holders should also be consulted.
Involving workers in the process of determining how manage risks will help them commit to the changes and become advocates around the work site.
It is important all workers are supported and know when and what to do, should they become ill.
Provide workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns, and access to support services, including employee assistance programs.
While most states and territories have closed their borders and require anyone arriving from another state to self-quarantine for at least 14 days, there are exemptions for transport purposes and some workers. You should confirm the requirements with your state or territory governing body before attempting to cross any borders.
There is a wealth of information online if you need more assistance to help your workers keep safe.
The HIA has fact sheets and information about working in construction and managing Covid-19.
The MBA also has information specific to the construction industry.
For posters and onsite information, the Dept of Health have resources you can print and distribute.
For more detail on the assistance available from various Government departments, the ASOFIA members’ area has a section where you can reference the most up to date information.