Under the guidelines provided by the UK government; construction sites can remain open with workers in England now being actively encouraged to return to work. When returning to work, it is imperative that employers work to make sure their business or site is ‘Covid-19 secure’. A big part of ensuring the business is ‘Covid-19 secure’ is to ensure social distancing rules are being followed wherever possible. The guidelines take into account that it may not always be possible, especially on construction sites to maintain social distancing, however they provide details on how to mitigate risk when it is not possible. Using the guidelines provided by the UK government on social distancing in the workplace, we’re going to look at how to implement this.
The guidance provided in this article applies currently only to England. The UK government has announced that those in England should return to work however in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales the lockdown rules differ.
The guidelines outline that the objective is to maintain a 2-metre social distance wherever possible. This includes arriving and leaving work, during work and when travelling between sites. Social distancing applies to all areas of a business or worksite, not only during work activities. It must extend to entrances and exits as well as break rooms and canteens.
Where social distancing cannot be implemented, the first step is to consider whether that particular activity needs to continue for the business to operate and if they determine it does, mitigating actions should be taken.
Mitigating actions include things such as increasing hygiene by washing hands frequently and cleaning surfaces more often as well as keeping activity time to a minimum. Other mitigating actions are:
- Reducing the number of people an individual has contact with by using a system of partnering or using ‘fixed’ teams. This ensures each person will only work closely with a select few others.
- Implementing side-to-side or back-to-back working. Face-to-face working is discouraged.
- Using screens or barriers between people to separate them.
Travelling To and From Work
Businesses should stagger start and finish times to reduce overcrowding at one particular time. They should also provide additional facilities which help people avoid using public transport such as providing extra parking or bike-racks. If a corporate vehicle is used, such as a minibus, seats should be left empty and passengers should be limited.
In terms of entry and exit points, they should be reconsidered. First of all, have more than one entry point to the site or building to avoid congestion and at these points introduce a one-way system and use markings to clearly show this. Where possible include handwashing or sanitising stations at entry and exit points. There should be alternatives to touch based security systems such as keypads or any entry/exit protocols which involve contact.
Moving Around Buildings and Sites
The first step to ensuring social distancing as people move around buildings and worksites is to reduce movement by discouraging non-essential trips within sites and buildings. This will include things such as using phones to communicate and restricting access to certain areas. In addition, reducing job and equipment rotation is key; try have individuals do single tasks for each day.
As with entry and exit points, one-way systems should be used where possible around the workplace to avoid people passing one another. Use signage to mark this out as well as to mark out 2m distances. Limit passengers on onsite vehicles used to travel around the site; social distancing should be maintained where vehicles are used.
Separating the site into physically distant working zones can help keep groups of workers separate and plan site access and safety points to enable social distancing as well as reduce the number of people in attendance at site inductions; these should be held outside wherever possible with social distancing.
High traffic areas such as corridors and lifts should be regulated to maintain social distancing.
Maintaining social distancing should be simpler for those who work statically, such as at a workstation. Workstations should be assigned to an individual where possible and not shared unless necessary. Workstations should be 2m apart where possible, and if not mitigating actions should be considered.
Face-to-face meetings should be avoided wherever possible and instead done remotely via phone or video call. If they are necessary, only absolutely necessary people should attend and maintain social distancing throughout the meeting. In addition to this, things such as pens or other objects should not be shared, hand sanitiser should be provided, and meetings should be outdoors where possible.
Make sure to stagger break times as this will immediately reduce occupancy in common areas at any one time. Where possible breaks should take place outside and additional spaces should be used where they are spare. Tables and seating should be adjusted in line with social distancing measures.
In an emergency such as an accident, fire or break in people do not have to stay 2m apart as this would impact immediate safety. If this is the case, those in contact with others need to ensure they pay attention to hygiene measures and mitigate risk where possible.
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