CONSTRUCTION: HOW TO TRADE SAFELY THROUGH COVID-19
In a recent webinar, industry voices and safety experts shared invaluable advice on safeguarding the well-being of your workforce and continuity in your business.
Businesses involved in construction and agriculture took part in the Lombard-backed webinar, which focused on the practical steps that firms need to take to ensure they can remain trading – and keep staff safe – during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Organised by Combined Industries Theft Solutions (CITS), a non-profit organisation aimed at reducing the effects of crime on construction and farming, the online event was entitled ‘Keep your workplace open during Covid-19’. It featured contributions from Kevin Connor, senior health and safety consultant at the bank’s Mentor advisory service, and Karen Greenshields, managing director of lifting, survey and safety at GAP Hire Solutions.
Hosting the session was CITS chairman David Smith. Speaking after the event, he said that a large number of businesses had been forced to develop their responses to the pandemic in an ad-hoc manner. “Back in March, we probably didn’t realise the situation was going to stretch well into 2021,” Smith said.
“The aim of the webinar was to give businesses the opportunity to review and refresh their policies, by listening to Kevin talk about best practice in terms of workplace regulations and risk assessments, for example, and also drawing on Karen’s experience of what policies and procedures have been effective in enabling GAP to remain open and safe.”
Rebuild confidence with robust systems
Connor opened the session by stressing the importance of getting your Covid-19 strategy right. “Putting robust plans in place now to avoid businesses interruptions from future waves of coronavirus could be one of the most important things you can do to protect your business,” he said. “This is also about rebuilding confidence so you can continue to trade safely.”
Overall, Connor said, we know the best approach for businesses to help mitigate their risks from coronavirus is to focus their efforts on social distancing, good hygiene practices and ensuring that staff work in fixed teams or with fixed partners.
“But if there is one thing you take from my presentation, it is the importance of having a robust and well-documented risk-assessment process,” he stressed. “Some documents we see are easily identified as works of fiction.” Proper risk assessments, Connor added, need to be living documents which are constantly reviewed and updated. “This may sound dull, but it won’t be if you have a Covid-19 outbreak and your documents are what keeps your business open.”
He said that employers should ensure staff are fully informed about and trained in any new procedures that are introduced, and that business access protocols should be communicated through signage and floor markings. “Firms should also increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and install additional hand-washing stations or facilities.”
Be aware of your obligations
Connor also warned against implementing new procedures for their own sake, or in an ineffective way. “Temperature testing is a good example of this: the UK government and World Health Organization do not recommend taking employees’ temperatures and instead advise that you should focus your energy on implementing their recommended actions.” A temperature check on its own is not a test for coronavirus. There are reports of significant problems in the usage and variance of various models of no-touch thermometers, and significant staff training and consent is required.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t check temperatures,” he added. “But if you are going to do so, then do it properly – in business, we don’t have time to do things that do not add value.”
Employers also need to have a clear plan for dealing with a coronavirus outbreak. “You have an obligation to report under RIDDOR [Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013] if a worker has been diagnosed as having Covid-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work.
“And the employer must report to the local NHS board health protection team if they are informed of more than one confirmed Covid-19 case with symptoms that date within 14 days of each other.”
Connor added that Mentor is also providing free access for all businesses to its MentorLive service, which includes sector-specific business continuity checklists.
Make staff feel safe
Greenshields said that GAP’s priority during the pandemic has been its staff: “Employee safety has been at the centre of our decision-making process from the very start,” she said. “We have used what we call ‘the seven Cs’ framework: clear and consistent communication; avoiding confusion; ensuring that senior management stay calm and show compassion for their staff; and ensuring business continuity throughout the pandemic.”
“Our aim has been to make people feel safe and secure coming to work.”
As well as introducing more hygiene measures and enforcing the two-metre social distancing rule, GAP has “gone into overkill” with signage, Greenshields said: “This sets out what is expected in every zone – the office and depots, as well as toilets, meeting rooms and corridors.”
One key challenge for GAP has been the fact that it operates across England, Scotland and Wales, where pandemic-related rules have diverged to some degree. Early on in the crisis, the firm took the decision – to avoid confusion – to follow the strictest guidance possible across the whole of its UK operations. For example, when the government in England introduced the one-metre-plus social distancing guidelines in the summer, GAP stuck with the two-metre rule that was in force in Scotland and Wales.
Meanwhile, the firm’s HR tracking system means it is better able to focus its efforts in the event of any member of staff testing positive for coronavirus.
Greenshields said: “A lot of what we do is simple to put in place but makes people feel safe. You don’t need to close your business if you follow these straightforward, inexpensive steps.”
NatWest Mentor offers access to the MentorLive Coronavirus Hub. All businesses can register for free access to coronavirus employment law, HR, and health & safety guidance, coronavirus FAQs, business recovery checklists, templates and more. Go to natwestmentor.co.uk.