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The Covid-19 pandemic has without a doubt been the single greatest disruptor to the construction industry since the 2008 recession, but the industry is thinking on its feet and adapting to make sites safe to facilitate a return to work amid the pandemic. Sophie Hurst, Managing Director of Integrity Software, writes.

But there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel, as research from trade body Build UK last week showed that major contractors are now returning to work on almost 70% of their sites.

It’s certainly encouraging to see that major contractors are taking steps to return to work, and Build UK’s membership includes key players in the industry, including: like Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke, Kier, McAlpine, Skanska, Bouygues, Bam, Vinci, Wates, Mace and Morgan Sindall.

APSS start reopening sites

Commercial fit-out specialists and Integrity Software customer APSS have decided to reopen some sites, and find a way to work safely with social distancing measures in place.

In a company statement posted on their LinkedIn page they said: “It is clear that restrictions around social distancing are likely to be in place for many months – and so our sector must find a way to work safely during these times.”

Barratt restarting work on half of sites

Barratt has also confirmed they will be reopening sites next month, after furloughing more than 85% of their 6,000 strong workforce.

Since they shut their 360 sites last month Britain’s biggest housebuilder has been testing out safe ways of working on a pilot site, in line with guidance from the Government and the Construction Leadership Council.

Barratt has described that there are a number of changes in place, including those to signage, site welfare facilities, walkways, and site access.

They have said there will be a dedicated Social Distancing Marshal on each of their sites to ensure the safety of all their employees and subcontractors.

Higgins reopening many sites this week

The building contractor Higgins Construction based in the South East will reopen most of their sites this week, whilst the majority of office-based staff will continue to work from home.

Like many of the construction businesses reopening their sites, they have spent a considerable amount of time consulting with clients and the supply chain to get an understanding for the challenges they are likely to face.

Like all responsible contractors during this time, health and safety is their top priority, and they too have developed specific protocols to allow for social distancing measures to be adhered to.

Supply chain starting to shift into gear

Of course, it’s great that contractors are beginning to reopen sites and get back to work, but as we are all too aware, the industry depends on the entire supply chain to work effectively. That’s why it’s encouraging to see some progress when it comes to material suppliers taking steps to get back to work.

Breedon Group are amongst the latest material companies to get back to business, after they confirmed they’d be restarted production at some of their plants.

Brickability has also said that they will be reopening sites in light of recent announcements from large UK housebuilders, brick manufacturers and some of its other customers.

According to research from the Builders Merchants Federation, there’s been a 7% increase in the number of UK stores open in the last week, which is very encouraging news for the industry.

Grafton, the group which owns Buildbase and Selco, have also reported plans to start reopening branches this week, after the vast majority of Grafton’s UK distribution branches and manufacturing plants were closed on 24th March 2020.

Adapting sites to make them safe

One thing is clear: changes need to be made to sites to ensure the safety of employees and subcontractors, and reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 further.

Some sites have installed fever screening technology, which are able to scan crowds of workers as they come onto site, identifying any with a higher than normal temperature. Anomaly Group have partnered with a leading Chinese manufacturer to bring this technology to the UK construction market.

Another safety measure we’re seeing is contractors using a disinfectant spray to eliminate viruses on common contact surfaces, and Brymec have seen a huge surge in demand for their Virus Sanitation Solution.

The spray is delivered by an electric sprayer onto surfaces such as reception desks, access controls, turnstiles, canteen tables, lockers and more, in a bid to kill the virus living on regularly touched surfaces.

Conclusion: Careful optimism as more and more sites plan to reopen

With more and more construction sites putting plans in place to reopen safely, along with the supply chain gradually becoming more and more operational, it certainly seems like encouraging steps are being taken for the industry to get back on its feet.