Social distancing has become the crux of the response to COVID-19 and is something everyone is having to adapt to; in general life and at work – not least on construction sites.
This can be challenging in many environments and scenarios; not least on a construction site and there has been a lot of debate on how social distancing guidelines can be practically and safely implemented. Whilst there isn’t a simple solution and health and safety challenges remain for certain tasks on site, there are a number of measures that can be introduced quickly to support social distancing.
One method of supporting social distancing on site is by deploying operatives specifically for this purpose; to physically monitor and control operative numbers to ensure recommended distances are achieved. In fact, the latest guidance for the construction industry* recommends restricting the number of people using communal facilities on site at any one time with the use of a welfare attendant. Such areas include toilets, changing rooms and washing facilities but the guidelines could also be applied to any areas on site where social distancing measures are recommended; for example, canteens and entrance and exit points.
Welfare attendants can also help to manage shift patterns, both in terms of safely staggering operatives entering and exiting sites and by monitoring the number of operatives on site or in certain zones, to ensure capacity limits are not breached.
Other support systems for social distancing on site comes in the form of technology-enabled solutions, such as workforce management and access control systems. Access control systems can monitor operative numbers and capacity information in real time, so you can check the latest data live on screen, whether on site or at head office. An effective, controlled access system also has the benefit of monitoring safety-critical roles on site, such as first aiders and fire marshals – or the skillsets and level of competency required at any given time – to ensure general safety best practice and compliance, which we mustn’t forego. Access control systems can help with a ‘track and trace’ approach to managing any confirmed cases of COVID-19, by monitoring who is on site and in which areas. Knowing who is on site in real time can also help with social distancing by monitoring operative numbers to ensure recommended capacity limits are not breached.
Reducing manual processing of paperwork on site by using digital forms can also be beneficial. This works two-fold – in response to a reduced headcount on site and the subsequent need to complete or have access to paper-based processes digitally whilst team members are offsite (including design and production teams) or by reducing the amount of physical items those on site on site need to handle. Digital forms can also aid communication between on and offsite teams by making it easier to collaborate, with full traceability and productivity benefits.
Education is also key. It is every company’s responsibility to provide relevant information on social distancing – how it works, why it is important and how to apply it in different scenarios. From clear signage on site to operative training in the form of training modules or videos, communication in all formats is crucial. Online induction systems can help to manage this process; by making social distancing training (as well as general COVID-19 training) a mandatory part of operative induction, as well as providing a clear audit trail. Tailored health and safety training can be added to an Online Induction portal, with the added benefit of operatives being able to enrol and complete briefings off site, minimising face-to-face contact and on site briefings. Media screens on site can also be adapted to convey the latest social distancing and hygiene guidance and even personal protective equipment such as hi-vis jackets can be adorned with safety messages, as a constant reminder to everyone on site.
The longevity of the COVID-19 challenge remains to be seen but, in the meantime, we – as a community at large and an industry – can fight back and make our environment as safe as possible by supporting social distancing.
*Construction Leadership Council’s Site Operating Procedures guidance (version 4)
Commercial Director at Biosite Systems Ltd
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