Setting your sites on health and safety

Working in one of the more regulated sectors from a health and safety point of view, construction companies have much in place already, and ensuring your health and safety plan is updated and covers all the bases is the most important step towards site- readiness

John Mathews, President of the Master Builders Association, emphasises that despite the Construction Covid-19 Rapid Response Team (CC19RRTT ) making headlines for its case to recognise construction as an essential service, its primary purpose is to support all efforts to manage the sector through the pandemic and safely back to work. “We started off with six national bodies formulating a voluntary task team that would try and unlock the construction industry post-Covid. We all support the president’s lockdown but what happens afterward? We know have 13 organisations joining the task team, and we need to have a plan in place,” notes Matthews.

Bringing it all together

This level of coordination between so many industry bodies has resulted in strong sectoral support, and the recent launch of The Master Builders Association North (MBA North) comprehensive COVID-19 health and safety consulting and training services is an important guide to managing health and safety on the construction site. All regions will be preparing for a safe return to work as quickly as possible once the restrictions are lifted.

Getting prepared on time

Reopening construction sites after the lockdown is set to be a challenging process, says Gerhard Roets, Construction Health and Safety Manager at MBA North, convener of CC19RRTT. “Over and above your COVID-19 Workplace Readiness Plan, the Construction Industry will be required to update their current Health and Safety files and re-induct employees on site. Preparing to return to work in a safe and compliant manner could take some time, therefore any company hoping to resume work next month should be preparing to do so now,” he says.

Workplace Readiness Plan Required

The challenge of compliance with the new COVID-19 directive is exacerbated by ‘information overload’ and confusion about which projects may resume when. Roets says, “Many members are asking how they should prepare. All construction may resume in Level 3 – this includes both commercial and residential construction. But before resuming work, they must prepare a Workplace Readiness Plan and apply for a certificate or permit with the Companies & Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC).”

The workplace readiness plan should include:

  • Thorough risk assessments and site-specific protocols in place
  • Detailed plans for the phased-in return of workers to the workplace, and staff rotational arrangements
  • Health protocols to protect employees from COVID-19, including screening and testing facilities and systems
  • The appointment of a compliance officer to oversee implementation of the plan
  • Policies on site visitors
  • Reporting and escalation measures.

Compliance with COVID-19 Health and Safety directives is expected to prove costly for the sector, and will likely slow down work, says Roets. “There are many different areas of work involved, in many cases people need to be working side by side, which complicates compliance with physical distancing guidelines. Preparing the Workplace readiness plan may take some time before they are able to begin physical work, and daily screening and health and safety checks will add hours to each working day.”

SMME Support

The Association says compliance may be particularly difficult for SMMEs. Having generated no revenue in the past two months, they will now have to fund additional COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and incur other expenses.

However, the cost of non-compliance could be devastating. A single worker infected with COVID-19 may spread the virus resulting in site closure; and infractions could result in penalties and fines.

To help the sector prepare to reopen sites safely and in line with new regulations and guidelines, the MBA North now offers consulting and training priced within reach of even SMMEs. The Association can assist both members and non-members in preparing a COVID-19 Health and Safety plan, conduct risk assessments, and can even send its mobile training unit (ToM) to sites to raise workers’ awareness of the new safety protocols in place, which is offered in five languages.

The Association has tailored its offering to help all contractors to get back to work safely as soon as restrictions are lifted.

 A proven model for recovery

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the construction industry faced significant challenges including the lack of work, late and non-payment and uncontrolled illegal construction site invasions that resulted in reported company closures and loss of jobs. The industry is now calling for activation of planned public infrastructure spending as announced in the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF), for positive knock-on effects on economic recovery and growth through the multiplier effect.

This is a proven model for economic recovery that has been used by many countries emerging out of periods of crisis. Despite bearing some of the highest burden of the pandemic, the governments of the United Kingdom, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, China and Italy have re-opened their construction industries and committed to increased public infrastructure spending as part of their post-pandemic economic recovery plans.

CC19RRTT comprises: Master Builders South Africa (MBSA), Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS), Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF), South African Institute of Architects (SAIA), Black Business Council in the Built Environment (BBCBE), Consulting Engineers of South Africa (CESA), Association of Construction Project Managers (ACPM), South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), South African Black Technical and Allied Careers Organisation (SABTACO), South African Women in Construction (SAWIC), The Concrete Institute of South Africa (TCI), Cox Yeats Attorneys and Master Builders KwaZulu-Natal (MBA KZN) as the convener.

Click here to find  regional Master Builder Association to ensure you are ready in time for Level 3, or call them on +27 (0)11 205 9000

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