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Fundamental changes required to keep building sites open

A number of fundamental changes will be required to ensure that building sites can remain open and safe for their workers in the Covid-19 era, says Brendan Sharkey, head of construction and real estate at accountancy firm MHA MacIntyre Hudson.

Following the prime minister’s active encouragement for construction workers to get back onsite last night (May 10), Sharkey says lateral thinking is required to make building sites safe.

“The prime minister’s announcement gave the sector a nudge in the direction of resuming normal operations, but lacked clarity. Unlike some sectors, construction will not enjoy a ‘V-shaped’ recovery – contracts will take time to return and there will be a lack of foreign labour to fulfil work. The government and the big firms must urgently apply drive and creative thinking to prepare construction sites to function in the Covid-19 era,” he says.

“To make sites safer one of the government’s priorities should be to facilitate the move to biometrics for staff sign in. Eye and facial recognition, as used in airports, will provide robust worker recognition and cut the risk of contagion. Temperature monitors should be installed on large sites as an early warning system if a worker is unwell.

Building sites will need to re-think how they operate in the Covid-19 era and beyond.

“Allowing sites to open from 6am to 7pm while light is good, instead of the current 8am to 6pm, would make staggered shifts possible and cut down congestion on public transport. Free parking would also be a huge help.

“Technology should be employed for some ‘onsite’ roles to be performed remotely. For example, project managers could collect all the data they need with cameras and the right software.

“Firms face a dual challenge of tackling onsite safety, while managing cashflow. Margins are always thin in the sector and even with the Job Retention Scheme nearly all firms are making losses. Tax breaks in the form a zero rate for all forms of maintenance, repair and extension could get the small trader back on his feet.”

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Editor-in-Chief across the BMJ portfolio.

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