COVID-19 and construction: government update and keeping employees safe on site

April 14, 2020
Small Business

The New South Wales government and City of Melbourne both announced on 2 April that construction sites can operate on extended hours to support the construction industry through the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction, especially rebuilding in the wake of last summer’s bushfires, is one of the commercial activities deemed essential by the Federal Government.

In New South Wales the new regulations mean that work on construction sites across the state can now continue on weekends and public holidays as the state government looks to support the 400,000 workers in the industry.

Workers will have to observe social distancing rules already in place but can now spread their work across the full week.

In Victoria the new regulations apply only to the City of Melbourne so far and are approved on a case-by-case basis, allowing construction sites to operate an extra hour in the morning and evening on weekdays. Three hours of extra work are permitted on Saturdays with six hours of limited activity permitted on Sunday. These new measures will be reviewed on a monthly basis.

Finishing trades, such as painting and plastering, whose work doesn’t have a significant impact on surrounding residents can extend work hours to 10pm.

What this means for construction industry trades

These measures will help contractors and subcontractors implement shift work which in turn will assist with social distancing whilst getting on with the job.

From a basic insurance perspective, no additional cover is required to provide for activities performed outside of normal operational hours.

Government advice around social distancing, improved workplace hygiene and limitations on non-essential visitors to construction sites still applies.

Our builders insurance specialist are available to help you better understand what the impact of these new measures and COVID-19 more generally has to your insurance.

Keeping your construction staff safe from COVID-19

No matter where your construction business is based, it is vital to keep your staff safe through the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Social distancing

Each state and territory has now adopted social distancing measures which limit the number of people on a work site, based on the size of each site.

Owners and operators must do everything reasonably possible to ensure that workers keep a safe distance of at least 1.5m apart while they are on site.

Try to limit physical interactions between workers as much as possible. This can prove difficult on a construction site but you can safeguard your staff in practical ways, including implementing

  • utilisation of split shifts
  • creating specific walkways through site
  • staggering break times
  • spreading out furniture in the break room.

Limiting non-essential visits and deliveries should also be enforced and any visitors on site should be given clear instructions outlining any protocols you’ve instituted.

2. Enhanced hygiene

Workers, the equipment they work with and areas where they work need to observe and be subjected to a scrupulous level of hygiene.

For workers, that means washing hands with soap often (and doing so for 20 seconds) or using hand sanitiser as often as possible. Coughing or sneezing into your elbow, cleaning and disinfecting any surfaces they touch and ensuring the clothes they’re wearing are washed at the end of each shift are practical ways for employees to limit their own risks.

Because construction work is hands-on it is critical that your site is regularly and thoroughly cleaned. Surfaces, switches and facilities in lunch-rooms, bathrooms, site offices and all other site amenities should be industrially cleaned frequently.

Workers should be given access to personal protective equipment were available, as should cleaners working on the site.

3. Health checks / quarantine

It is vital that if any of your staff feel unwell or have any of the following symptoms they are reported to a manager immediately

  • sore throat
  • coughing
  • fever
  • nasal congestion
  • headaches
  • difficulty in breathing.

If your workers have been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or someone who suspects they may have COVID-19, or is suffering any of the above symptoms, they should also report to a manager.

Workers displaying symptoms or in contact with a possible case should be quarantined at home and seek further medical advice.

4. Talk to your staff

It is important that your employees feel comfortable reporting symptoms or any concerns during what is a difficult and ever-changing crisis. Opening these lines of communication and making sure you keep staff updated on any regulatory changes or new health advice helps ensure transparency in both directions.

If these updates raise any questions about your construction insurance cover or risk management procedures, get in touch with one of our construction insurance specialists. We are here to help.


Further reading

VIC: Construction hours extended in response to COVID 19

NSW: Construction hours extended to support industry during COVID-19

Coronavirus and construction-activity

Coronavirus preparation for construction workers to keep them safe

Construction insurance

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