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Can You Effectively Social Distance When Working On A Construction Site?

A recent HVAC summit – hosted by H&N News in March – saw expert panellists agree that COVID-19 safety measures would remain in place for “at least a year”, even with some social restrictions now being lifted. This raises the question once again whether social distancing and face coverings are a practical safety measure on construction sites, and how they have been managed so far.

With essential construction works largely continuing during the pandemic, the safety precautions – implemented to reduce the risk of infections spreading – have been widely accepted as a necessary measure. And with social distancing and face coverings likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, it is a good time to assess their merit and practicality.

The importance of social distancing on construction sites

It is generally agreed that social distancing is practical in most construction sites, and the main barrier to it is people simply forgetting and having to remind themselves when human nature takes over. Where machine operators have to work in pairs, or where close proximity is unavoidable – for example in a confined space or where items are being passed between two people – a risk assessment should conclude that face coverings and/or the task being carried out in the open air where infections are less likely to spread (where this is possible), are adequate safety measures to control the risk. In most cases, however, construction workers are able to work alone, or at least more than two meters apart from a colleague, so that safe working practices and communications can continue.  

The HVAC summit heard from various trade bodies who had helped support the implementation of social distancing and face coverings on site, including BESA Health & Safety Consultant Rebecca Crosland, who claimed it was “too early to say” how long these measures would have to remain in place on construction sites. The uncertainty comes from new variants of the virus being discovered, and if the UK returns to regional tier systems, construction workers travelling from an area of the country with a bad rate of infection, to an area with a good one.

For the moment, therefore, workers are being asked to retain the two metre distancing rule and to stick to one-way systems on site where possible. Face coverings have been accepted as a workable and sensible safety measure on sites, irrespective of COVID-19 also. In addition, it may be necessary to carry out risk assessments where inside working is required and unavoidable. Usually it is possible to ventilate areas and ensure a good flow of fresh, clean air, to minimise any risk on such occasions.

How to implement social distancing on construction sites

Over the last year, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) have begun site inspections to enforce COVID-19 safety rules on construction sites, which has largely been welcomed as a means of promoting awareness. HSE guidance on social distancing on construction sites includes using floor tape or paint to mark floor areas, providing more signage, having people working side-by-side rather than face-to-face and limiting the movement of people where possible (through less job rotation, less use of work vehicles, avoiding high traffic areas and restricting non-essential travel).

Additional safety measures becoming widely accepted on construction sites also include:

  • Carrying out essential safety training remotely before entering the site
  • Worker health screening
  • Widespread hand sanitising
  • Contact tracing information for all employees kept on site

Acceptance and collaboration has led to COVID-19 measures being a success on construction sites, and with the next 12 months likely to see the same measures in place, a comprehensive plan of action for all contractors is the best way to make social distancing and other COVID measures both workable and practical.

At Robinsons Facilities Services we are very pleased with the robust systems we have in place and how our employees have embraced and responded to new measures and procedures during the pandemic.

If any HVAC organisations need advice on social distancing on construction sites, we are happy to share our ideas and real-life experiences, so get in touch today.

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