Covid-19 health & safety regime
Article featuring Ben Hancock, Managing Director of Oscar Acoustics as featured in Building Magazine.
Oscar Acoustics implement extra measures that have helped construction firms return to sites.
The coronavirus outbreak has thrown the construction industry into disarray. Unfortunately, while other downturns disrupted the sector’s finances, covid-19 has also put people’s lives at risk. Now more than ever, companies need to put in place and adhere to strict health and safety guidelines to protect our employees.
There can be a tendency within construction to bravely press on, especially as there are such huge sums of money involved. This is understandable, however, what happens when large clients and main contractors are not taking the risk seriously enough and still expect people to turn up and work in potentially hazardous sites?
This is something we experienced early on. We pulled our staff off sites as soon as the lockdown was announced, in the interest of prioritising staff and public health. We worked until midnight putting plans in place. Teams working nights were instructed to finish the area they were spraying and ensure they had pulled off site by the end of the shift. By 10am the on the morning after the announcement, all operations site operations had effectively shut down.
That morning however, many clients still expected the work to continue and we ended up having some awkward conversations. Despite this, we are still determined to make sure any site has been secured as fully as possible against coronavirus transmission.
Fortunately, many other subcontractors also pulled their staff off site. By banding together we have been able to present a united front to leverage clients into adopting more stringent health and safety measures. It is only by working together that collective clout can be achieved.
"Larger businesses agreed to let us implement our own more stringent health and safety regime as a condition before returning to work"
After getting larger businesses to agree to let us implement our own more stringent health and safety regime as a condition before returning to work, we then devised a thorough risk assessment, specifically designed around coronavirus and social distancing. We found that all too often, the additional measures introduced by some clients simply did not go far enough.
This includes but is not limited to:
Zoning and reduced numbers
It’s imperative to reduce contact between individuals as much as possible. The first step was to try and reduce numbers on site. Once this is done, it makes it easier to split the site into zones where only certain trades are permitted to work. If you know who you are in a zone with, it is easier to ensure distancing is maintained. Some sites have been able to give our company our own zone with its own entrance/exit allowing us to fully control exposure.
While everyone is keen to point out that you should keep 2m away from someone, this often falls apart quite quickly. One issue we found was around paths and walkways, which were often not wide enough to guarantee a 2m gap. Therefore, all passages on a site must be one-way to prevent people passing each other and breaching social distancing.
One thing many outside the industry do not realise is that construction sites can be quite dirty places. This is why all surfaces must be sanitised regularly, and other measures such as banning workers spitting need to put in place. A particularly dirty area that will surprise no one is the toilets, which is why we are especially strict here:
- Toilet attendants ensure only one person can go in at a time
- All surfaces are wiped down and sanitised between each use
- Everyone queuing must maintain a minimum 2m gap
- Hand-washing strictly enforced
- Individual equipment – all equipment, from tools to scaffolding towers, should only be touched by one person. We use electrical tape to colour-code every piece of equipment so people know which one they can use.
Microwaves and kettles have been removed from canteens, to make sure no one uses the same appliance. We have gone even further and stopped our staff even using shared canteens, and must bring lunch from home to eat it within their own vehicle.
All these measures have allowed us to rigorously practice social distancing while getting back to work, creating sites that are as a very minimum as safe as a well-managed supermarket.
Ben Hancock, managing director at Oscar Acoustics