According to a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Building (UK) and CM Magazine, a majority of construction professionals in the UK say their organisations are trying to keep sites operational during the coronavirus lockdown. What can the SA construction industry learn from this survey?
The key findings of this survey include the findings that might be relevant to the South African construction industry:
- Most construction businesses believe they can follow coronavirus health guidelines and still keep sites open but face a challenge to convince workers that they are safe.
- More than half (56%) of those surveyed said their organisations were keeping all or some sites open. Of these, 57% said their organisations believed health guidelines and rules around social distancing could still be followed.
- Asked in which sectors sites remained operational, half (50%) said that healthcare, education and other public building sites were still running, 28% of infrastructure sites and 19% of social housing sites.
- Some 81% said the 2m social distancing rule was being observed by workers on site. Three-quarters said there were handwashing facilities at the entrance to the site and on the site itself, and 77% had observed enhanced cleaning of all site facilities.
- Nearly three-quarters (72%) reported that measures have been put in place to restrict or stagger access to site welfare facilities. A total of 76% said employers had been issuing guidance on all of the health guidelines for safe site operation. And 81% said that ill workers were following self-isolation rules.
- But traveling to and from sites while still observing the 2m social distancing rule appears to be proving more problematic, with only 61% reporting that it was possible.
- And there were calls for clearer rules on what was and was not permitted for construction sites during the lockdown.
- More than half of those surveyed are worried about managing their personal finances beyond the next three months, with some facing serious financial worries as a result of the lockdown.
- The survey found that 47% were worried about managing beyond July, while 7.5% already had serious short-term concerns.
What does this mean for the South African construction industry?
- The survey revealed that UK construction businesses believe they can follow coronavirus health guidelines and still keep sites open but face a challenge to convince workers that they are safe. South African construction businesses need to ensure that they support their workers and develop trust to ensure that construction sites are safe for them. If workers do not feel safe or believe their health will be compromised, they will not show up for work. Although COVID19 specific construction health and safety guidelines in South Africa, are still being drafted in accordance with the Department of Employment and Labour directive, it will be important that construction employers are able to demonstrate that they can protect lives.
- The survey revealed that UK construction businesses were open and were following the health and safety guidelines issued. For the South Africa government, this confirms that it is indeed possible for construction projects to be opened and operate under COVID19 construction health and safety guidelines. Most companies confirmed that it was possible to maintain the 2m social distancing rule.
- The survey showed that the health, education, and public building construction projects made up over 50% of projects that were operating. 28% were civil engineering infrastructure projects and 19% social housing projects were opened. This could suggest that the government can prioritise health infrastructure because this will be needed to ensure the health sector is resilient and can deal with pressure from COVID19. Education projects could be allowed to operate since learners and students are away from schools.
- The transportation of workers to site was revealed to be problematic while maintaining the 2m social distancing rule. This means that the South African construction industry should take further precautions to ensure that ensure the safety of construction workers.
- The survey reveals there was a lack of clarity in terms of supplier and manufacturers. This means that the SA construction industry should demand the government to provide further guidance on suppliers and manufacturers as the industry cannot work without them.
- South African companies must provide more support for employees in terms of mental health and personal finance. The UK survey reveals that more than half of those surveyed are worried about managing their personal finances beyond the next 3 months, with some facing serious financial worries as a result of the lockdown. The industry must ensure employers apply for UIF TERS to save jobs. There must also mental health support programs for employees to deal with various issues as a result of COVID19 e.g. death of a loved on, stigma and discrimination.
The survey results can obtained here.