In the second in our series of Q&A articles with Darke & Taylor’s Managing Director, Simon Newton, we discuss how:
- the Construction Industry has responded to COVID-19
- specific additional measures undertaken by D&T
- specific impacts on ISO14001
- changes to working practises for D&T going forwards.
COVID under Construction
Q. There was a lot of initial criticism directed at the Construction Industry for continuing to operate at the start of lockdown – how would you categorise the response in general?
I’ve been really impressed by how the Construction Industry has been extremely proactive at implementing rules in line with government guidance. The Construction Leadership Council has developed Site Operating Procedures (SOP) to align safety on site with the latest guidance from Public Health England. The companies that we work with on sites that have remained open have implemented a wide range of measures to maintain social distancing; i.e. advanced hygiene, splitting shifts, scheduling work in different areas of building…etc.
It was difficult to deal with the negative reaction from the public and media to our industry remaining partially operational during lockdown. However, on 31st March the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, wrote an open letter to the construction sector. In this letter, he stated that since it was impossible for many working in the sector to work from home, they should continue to go to work, operate under the SOP and support the UK economy.
[Note: click here to read the full transcript of the letter].
Q. What specific measures has D&T adopted for its on-site working?
All of our employees are given Toolbox Talks to ensure they understand the social distancing and the COVID-19 specific rules that need to be followed to ensure safe working practises.
However, the biggest challenge we’ve probably faced has not been how to work safely on-site – this is well covered in the SOP – but how to ensure all our employees can travel to work safely?
Yes, we’ve had to try to deliver projects with a lower site presence than normal as less staff have been allowed on site, but with good communication and adaptability that hasn’t been the main concern.
As an ISO14001 company, we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously, one of which is using crew buses and multi-occupancy vehicles wherever possible; i.e. we use the measurement of ‘seats per van’ to determine how effective we have been at getting workers to site. This has been impossible to maintain during the lockdown and we’ve had to be flexible, especially for more distant projects or those in Central London where public transport would normally be used. For some of our central Oxford work, those employees who live nearby (and are fit enough!) have managed to cycle in to work and we’ve worked hard to redeploy our fleet of vans, but it does remain a logistical headache for us to manage.
Q. What are Toolbox Talks and how do they fit in?
Toolbox Talks in themselves are fairly common in the Construction Industry. They are short awareness sessions that address health and safety risks, detail expected working practises and how specific issues should be addressed; e.g. The Creation of Dust – what to do?
D&T normally have a programme of monthly Toolbox Talks on industry-related topics. However, during the pandemic we have added extra weekly Toolbox Talks on specific COVID-related issues, which we use as a platform to reinforce our Health & Safety (H&S) message.
Q. Isn’t Health & Safety a standard requirement?
You’re correct – H&S is a fundamental requirement in a potentially dangerous industry such as Construction, and it is the primary responsibility of the Main Contractor and its subcontractors on site to implement and enforce H&S policies.
However, COVID-19 has been a unique H&S challenge which has required a great deal of adaptation and flexibility. D&T has been greatly helped in this respect by having its own H&S Officer (James Thompson), who has been able to give timely and authoritative H&S advise to D&T’s on-site workers.
Q, How does the H&S function work on-site in practise?
Our H&S Officer (James Thompson) goes on-site and undertakes a H&S audit on his tablet PC using iAuditor (a specific H&S app). The results can be sent in real-time to both D&T’s Project Manager and the Client’s H&S officer.
This has the advantage of providing a documented audit trail into COVID working practises and highlights any corrective action which needs to be undertaken in a timely manner. Clients have been delighted with D&T H&S input as it has helped them to adapt quickly using on-the-ground expertise, whilst for Project Managers it has provided a welcome source of reassurance and, in certain instances, a voice of authority should they need to confront the Main Contractor to implement changes.
James feeds back any relevant learnings in the regular Toolbox Talks updates to ensure that the knowledge is spread around D&T’s workforce. Having visited all the sites which D&T have been working on during the lockdown, this has allowed D&T to take a leadership role in how to implement social distancing on-site.
Finally, D&T has also set up a specific email address for any staff to contact if they’ve had any concerns on projects they’ve been working on.
We believe that this combination of measures, and the fact that D&T has its own dedicated employed H&S Officer, has enabled the company to respond to the current crisis in the best interests of both our staff and our customers, who expect D&T to be able to continue to deliver its services where at all possible.
Q. Have there been any positive developments from the enforced changes in working practises?
Yes, I think the enforced adoption of video conferencing technology has made us realise how much more effective we can be as a company.
We’re relatively lucky in that we’re based at an out-of-town industrial site and only 20% (roughly 40 out of our 200 employees) are office-based, so although our offices have remained open, there have been extremely limited numbers there at any one point in time. Our entire office-based workforce is now capable of working from home.
We’ve made extensive use of video conferencing which has been a bit of bonus as it’s made us realise that we don’t all have to be in the same place at the same time. We’ve had interactions between building sites and the office, so going forwards, it will be possible (perhaps normal?) to have 3-way meetings with people in a meeting room, on-site, and in their own living room.
Going forwards, we hope to improve our connectivity as a firm and work more effectively, which may help to offset some of the reduced car-sharing measures and help us to achieve our ISO14001 targets.
D&T will continue keep you posted on its response to COVID-19 through a series of Q&A sessions with its directors, project managers, and front-line workers.
If there is a topic you would like to see covered in a Q&A session, please leave a comment on this blog post below and we’ll get back to you.
Thank you once again to everybody for your support during these unprecedented times.