Despite the construction industry being one of the few that has been allowed to continue working throughout lockdowns, it has still had to navigate a number of health and safety concerns. When lockdown was initiated in March 2020, one of the primary concerns was how to maintain social distancing while adhering to standard construction safety protocols. Traditionally, in many cases construction workers are required to work side by side assisting one another for the sake of safety – that’s not possible with COVID distancing requirements.
Technically industry figures show that the number of deaths resulting from accidents on site have not increased in the past three years despite COVID. But in an era where technology could facilitate better safety and best practices are well known, they also have not decreased. Has the focus on maintaining COVID compliance caused site safety standards to slip in the construction industry? What are the possible causes and who should be held accountable when accidents happen?
Navigating the new normal
As all focus shifted to mitigating the progression of the pandemic, construction companies were told to reduce the number of workers on site and to provide adequate PPE for all workers. In short this translated to: Keep up the production and increase safety with fewer resources – a tall order. Many senior managers reduced site visits and focused on managing teams remotely. This meant that unless somebody actually reported on safety issues, management remained unaware. It only came under the spotlight when accidents happened, and this has placed workers and companies at risk.
It must not be forgotten that while navigating all of these challenges, many companies had additional strain placed on financial resources as the pipeline of work slowed and operational expenses increased. The survival of many businesses meant prioritising strategies to keep cash flows going. In some cases this may have resulted in cost cutting measures. And while they may seem like the right or most prudent measures on paper, it could be that the price was paid by those actively working on site.
While business leaders examine the effectiveness of their strategies for the past year, and as lockdown eases and industries re-open, it may be wise to conduct a careful audit on site safety. The construction industry certainly can’t afford more accidents to occur, just when it’s starting to get back on its feet.