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Restarting your construction business in a COVID-19 world

With the announcement that certain non-essential businesses will be allowed to return to work from the 1st of May, the South African government has implemented the next phase in its battle against COVID-19.

Utilising a staggered approach across five stages, this system is designed to resuscitate key industries while striking a balance between economic necessity and the health and safety of citizens. As the risk of the pandemic fluctuates, these levels will be adjusted accordingly.

This is welcome news for our flailing economy, even if the construction industry aside from critical civil engineering and public works projects will only make a full return to work once level two is reached.

As we wait for this to happen though, you must prepare now to ensure the smoothest transition from current work-at-home to work-on-site conditions. This planning not only needs to follow strict restrictions set forth by the government but should also position your company for the most advantageous return possible.

Safety first

The safety of your employees is critical and as stated by President Cyril Ramaphosa, “Every business will have to adhere to detailed health and safety protocols to protect their employees, and workplace plans will be put in place to enable disease surveillance and prevent the spread of infection.”

These workplace plans must begin with a detailed risk assessment of current office and site conditions which will form the basis for your organisation’s COVID-19 policies. Following this, these environments need to be prepared to address the identified risk level while implementing the measures and suggestions put forth by the government

At the time of writing, these include:

  • Enforcing a one-third cap on the number of staff in the workplace.
  • Ensuring cloth masks are worn by employees at all times.
  • Daily screening of staff for COVID-19 using symptom and temperature checks.
  • Making sanitisers or handwashing facilities readily available.
  • Implementing strict social distancing measures that ensure a distance of 1.5 metres between employees. And,
  • Giving workers over 60 and those with underlying medical conditions the option to work from home or to take leave with full pay.

Failure to comply with the Department of Labour’s risk assessment checklist could lead to the closure of your business. So, it is in your best interest to ensure that your office space and site are compliant.

Coming back as strong as possible

While your workplace is being prepared for the return of your employees, you should simultaneously prepare to hit the ground running with projects that were left in various stages of completion before the lockdown.

For Larry Dany and Garret Gibson, from law firm Eversheds Sutherland, this requires a practical approach that considers both the legal and project management issues that will be experienced when the industry returns to work. To ensure your organisation is properly prepared, they recommend that companies:

  1. Identify the status of each project and document everything

    If you know in advance precisely where and how a job was halted, this will enable you to restart with much greater efficiency and plan the completion of your projects down to the last detail before setting foot on site.

  2. Record as built safety conditions

    By identifying the safety measures that were in place before the lockdown and assessing whether or not these need to be updated, you will be able to greater facilitate the orientation of new crews and returning contractors. Making this site-specific information available to local authorities will also assist first responders if an incident occurs.

  3. Separate and track all costs

    This includes during lockdown and upon your organisations return to work. All supporting documentation should also be kept to avoid unnecessary disputes

  4. Anticipate supply shortage

    With all players returning to work at the same time, there will most likely be supply shortages. To prepare for these, you should work 30 to 60 days in advance and determine if the delivery of any materials need to be expedited.

  5. Identify project critical equipment

    In the same way that supply shortages need to be anticipated, the same consideration must be made for critical equipment too. Again, the key here is to plan and make sure that all inspection certificates for mechanical equipment are in place.

While there is still much uncertainty around the lasting impact COVID-19 will have on the construction industry, organisations in the built environment need to stay positive and pro-active by guaranteeing the safety of their employees and planning effectively for the return to work.

In doing so, your business will be able to transition seamlessly from the higher stages of the current lockdown while enjoying a competitive edge over organisations who fail to prepare in advance.

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