Minimising the risk of COVID-19 exposure in the building and construction industry
The Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020, which commenced on 31 March 2020, prohibits (among other things):
- public gatherings of more than two persons; and
- the occupier or operator of premises from allowing 500 or more persons for an outdoor space or 100 or more persons for an indoor space. Whether it is outdoor or indoor, the size of the premises must ensure sufficient space to fit 4 square metres for each person on the premises.
However, a gathering at a construction site that is necessary for the normal operation within the site falls under “essential gathering” which is excluded from the above order.
Although businesses in the building and construction industry may continue operating as usual, it is important that employers must not forget their duty under the model WHS laws to provide and maintain a work environment without risks to health and safety. Therefore, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers must implement relevant measures to minimise the risk of COVID-19 exposure at construction sites.
Recently, the Australian Government released specific advice for the building and construction industry to deal with these risks. In summary, the advice includes the following:
Despite a gathering at a construction site being an essential gathering, it is important to abide by the social distancing rules to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
Measures that could be taken involve:
- limiting physical interactions between workers and using other methods such as using mobile phones to communicate;
- limiting the number of workers on site by splitting shifts and reducing the number of tasks per day;
- creating specific walkways through the site to maintain physical separation;
- staggering meal times or breaks to limit the number of workers;
- conducting toolbox and other meetings online if possible, or at wide open spaces to enable workers to keep the required social distance of at least 1.5 metres;
- limiting the number of workers in a hoist/lift at any one time and prevent queues;
- postponing non-essential training; and
- placing signage about social distancing around the site.
Maintaining good hygiene is vital in minimising the risks of COVID-19 exposure.
Increased cleaning is needed as construction work regularly involves touching of objects and surfaces. All site amenities and surfaces on construction sites must be cleaned thoroughly. Employers should have adequate hygiene supplies on site and workers should also be required to practise good hygiene.
Employers must provide information about the risks of exposure to COVID-19 to all workers and, if needed, train workers in infection control.
Consultation and communication
Employers must consult with workers and any other duty holders working on site on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19. It is important that you provide clear direction and guidance about what is expected of workers, including their duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others.
This week the NSW Government introduced new rules for construction sites to operate on weekends and public holidays. The extended hours would assist building and construction work to be spread across more days of the week allowing a smaller number of workers to be working at the same time, so as to facilitate social distancing.
During these unprecedented times, it is important that you do what you can to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
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