Resuming Construction Activities : Post Covid-19

The governments of all countries are relentlessly trying to contain the spread of Covid-19 virus and many developed nations have experienced difficulties on several fronts to control it. Coronavirus has hit the entire world severely and industries like banking, IT, retail, auto, real estate are struggling due to loss of customers and cash crunch. As per an analysis by KPMG, construction sector in India is experiencing loss to the tune of Rs. 30,000 crore per day due to the lockdown. Though the country has been under lockdown for over 40 days, its repercussions may last for few months. The industry is set to experience a major change due to reasons directly related to the pandemic as also possible pressure on account of likely non-availability of skilled and unskilled workers, demand for higher wages, bank interest rates, cautious lending by banks and NBFCs and various macroeconomic factors.

However, all the above problems will not fade away unless execution of the construction projects resume. As per a recent CREDAI report, prior to lockdown approximately 20,000 construction projects were ongoing with a workforce of around 85 lakhs in India. With migrant labour returning to their home state, this is likely to change when the situation improves. Hence, there is a need to setup a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to monitor and control the labour and staff movement in and outside the construction site in order to resume these construction projects. The following could be considered when the situation improves for Post Covid-19 lockdown. It may also help companies get into appropriate operating practices when operations commence on the sites.

1. Requirement of medical certificate and worker’s authorisation certificate:
Every labour and staff need to provide medical certificate stating that they are having no symptoms of influenza, ILI, SARI and are found negative for symptomatic and asymptomatic for COVID-19. In addition to this, the organisation also must verify the authenticity of each worker and provide identity card to allow their entry into the site. These certificates will be the first line of defence for maintaining the safety of people within the sites.

2. Compulsory Masks and Hand gloves:
Along with general PPEs (safety shoes, helmets and reflective jackets) washable cloth masks and gloves to be made mandatory. Masks and gloves to be determined based on activities performed by the individual, as every activity has its own characteristics of wear and tear. For example, the housekeeping gang and concreting gang can use rubber gloves, reinforcement and structural steel workers need cut-protective gloves etc. To make sure that your place of work receives its delivery of disposable gloves, get the help of unigloves and improve the safety and protect the health of workers on-site.

3. Disinfection Timings:
Construction sites are crowded locations where hundreds of people work together in tandem, whereas in some projects the labour count could go up to a thousand. In such risky environment, it sounds logical enough to keep yourself disinfected as much as possible. Providing disinfectants to all labour and having disinfection timing of 20 seconds every 2 hours can be made possible through safety departments of all sites.

4. Aarogya Setu App:
This indigenously developed app by Indian Government is noteworthy in tracing the Covid-19 cases in the country. Many organisations have already made it mandatory to install the app and construction sites should be doubly stringent in making it compulsory to install Aarogya setu app.

5. Quarantine facility:
As the construction sites are heavily dependent on migrant workers, it must identify the provision of quarantine facility for the new labour, in consultation with local municipal bodies. With passage of time, metro cities will again attract more migrants thus adopting a pro-active approach of identifying the quarantine facility near the sites will reduce the rush in eleventh hour. Also, in case of identification of positive patients in or in-contact of site, such as labour, driver of goods supplier etc., protocol for sealing of entire site, labour colony, staff accommodation and other company property should be kept ready and approved.

6. Medical Check-up:
Medical check-up though was mandatory at construction sites, but the time demands to step-up the engagement with local hospitals. Daily recording of temperature of all staff and labours prior granting them permission to enter the site, must be strictly followed in order to minimise risks to team members. Any symptoms certified in point number 1, should be reported immediately and should be taken up as priority. In case of positive result, protocol described in point no. 5.

Post lockdown, while it is expected that social distancing will be adopted in every sector possible but in construction projects it may lead to stoppage of work. Construction projects do not enjoy the ‘production line setup’ status as that of manufacturing firms, where certain work-related discipline can be maintained. Hence, people in construction will have to learn to live and work with the existence of coronavirus. The above-mentioned suggestions will surely have its toll on operational expenditure of organisations. However, organisations will have to find ways to include these measures in their CSR spending, as taking care of internal stakeholders also is an essential social responsibility.

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