Challenges regarding Covid-19 that SMEs face when returning to Construction Sites

Challenges regarding Covid-19 that SMEs face when returning to Construction Sites

Challenges regarding Covid-19 that SMEs face when returning to Construction Sites

Challenges that building contractors face in South Africa’s construction industry – now further complicated by the novel coronavirus. 

For most small business entities (SMEs) and business owners in the South African construction industry, the past few months have been increasingly difficult and frustrating.  As the Covid-19 pandemic dragged on without promise of letting up, the global and domestic economy has taken an unpleasantly hard knock – with the construction industry being one of the hardest hit.

The delicate balance between going back to work in order to survive and earn a living amidst a deadly virus-infested environment, versus staying at home and slowly starving to death and losing your income, your house and your sanity, has been the most difficult to navigate – especially if one is the sole breadwinner and provider – and yet, the answer is non-negotiable. We must carry on if we are to overcome and survive.

Section 8(2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act stipulates that every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the employees.

Furthermore, it stipulates in section 14 that every employee shall (a) take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and of other persons who may be affected by his acts, (d) and if any situation is unsafe or unhealthy, that they shall report this to their employer or the health and safety representative.

However, what happens if the situation remains unsafe even though both the employer and employee have done everything they possibly can to mitigate all risks?

This blog addresses the protocols that SMEs and construction workers need to have in place to make their work environment and themselves as safe as possible, specifically focusing on the Covid-19 mitigation.

Protocols and procedures to follow on a construction site regarding Covid-19

  • Implement screening protocols and procedures

It is of utmost importance that each employee is screened daily before gaining access to the site, and that each employee is aware of the screening methods so that they can be prepared.

Screening typically includes the following components:

  • Sanitising your hands
  • Completing a Daily Register
  • Completing the Covid-19 Daily Screening Report
  • Having your temperature taken, which should be below 37.5°C.

Visit https://www.gov.za/coronavirus/guidelines for the updated Covid-19 regulations.

  • Enforce the use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

Ensure that each employee uses Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that is uncontaminated, durable and fit for the job at hand.

For instance, a cloth mask does not work as effectively as a confined-space respirator. Ask the question: What is the purpose of the PPE being used? To simply protect me, or to also protect my fellow workers?

Often in the past employees have misused and abused PPE because it is uncomfortable or “slows down” the work. This is, but even more so now, unacceptable.

It is the supervisors’ responsibility to enforce the use of PPE and to ensure that all employees are aware of the importance of using it correctly.

More information is available on the World Health Organization page - or click here for information about Personal Protection Equipment.

  • Enforce social distancing

Where possible, it is recommended that each employee works within a two-square-metre radius.

That means, for instance, that bricklayers, plasterers and painters will have to rotate on shifts or be spread out to adhere to protocols. This also includes spreading out lunch and tea breaks, ensuring that the canteen or dressing rooms are not overcrowded, and that on-site work is performed as per Covid-19 regulations.

Furthermore, physical barriers are an option where social distancing is not possible or practical. Once again, the supervisor will have to enforce this.

The financial, production and time-related implications are also considered, but it will be up to management to decide how these issues will be addressed.

  • Continuous monitoring and awareness

Daily Safety (so called Toolbox) talks, inspections and a screening protocol need to be implemented. It is important that all employees are aware of the situation and the importance of compliance.

Many sites are still not compliant – employees walk around without masks, no screening protocols are in place, no supervision on site, and sometimes employees are not even aware of the virus in our midst.

It comes down to creating awareness and ensuring that your staff – your team – are up to date with the latest changes in the industry and applicable legislation. As an owner and business manager, it is your responsibility to take care of your employees, and you will be liable should you be negligent.

In conclusion

Familiarising yourself with the applicable legislation, regulations and by-laws will assist you as employer to understand the demands of the industry better. Key legislation to consider includes the OHSA, Construction Regulations 2014, General Safety Regulations and General Administrative Regulations.

SERR Synergy assists business owners with a comprehensive OHS service which creates and continuously develops a health and safety culture and system within the business that aligns with the business’s internal policies and goals. We have a dedicated and qualified team who implements health and safety legislation, and assists with small- to large-scale OHS projects, concerns or aspects.

About the Author: Inge-Marie joined our team in August 2018 and currently holds the title ‘Occupational Health and Safety Officer’. She is registered with SACPCMP as Candidate Construction Health and Safety Officer, holds a SAMTRAC certificate and a B.Com Business degree from UNISA. She has more than eight years’ experience in the construction and health and safety industry, specialising in roof work, telecommunication and working at heights. She is currently responsible for various industry-specific clients, including construction, manufacturing, chemicals and oil, as well as wireless internet service providers. She compiles OHS files, risk assessments and fall protection, and emergency and evacuation plans and conducts regular internal audits for clients.

 

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