The role of the construction industry in the midst of a pandemic has been widely contested. Social distancing regulations have made many people apprehensive about the gradual reopening of the construction sector, but if this is done in a safe and secure way, this industry will play an essential role in the recovery of the UK economy.
As 2019 came to an end, the construction industry was going from strength to strength. This period of growth helped to balance the relative declines in other sectors (including retail and manufacturing). At this time, the construction industry contributed up to six per cent of the UK’s GDP, seven per cent of jobs, and thirteen per cent of businesses. The average salary in the industry was rising, as was the output of the construction industry. In December 2019, overall output was up by 3.8 per cent in comparison with December 2018 according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
Then, the pandemic changed everything. As we’d expect, the output of the construction industry has plummeted over the past few months. In March, output was down by 7.1 per cent when compared with the same period last year. Many firms have struggled to stay afloat during the lockdown, despite the UK government’s controversial decision to allow many construction sites to remain open during the early lockdown measures.
On the 10th of May, Boris Johnson’s lockdown update encouraged anyone who couldn’t work from home to return to work, quashing any doubt about the fact that construction work should continue. So, while the industry works to gradually rebuild itself, let’s explore more closely how firms can operate in a safe way and bounce back to their previous productivity levels.
Make sure your machinery is safe and well maintained
Although there was no definitive guidance for construction sites to close during lockdown, many of them chose to pause operations while the most severe stages of lockdown were underway. Most construction sites will be used to the mothballing process after shutting down sites during Christmas breaks, but extra precaution should also be taken as sites begin to reopen.
It is essential that firms run through all the necessary machinery checks and closely examine any equipment before they continue operations as usual. These checks will vary depending on the equipment you use. For example, if you use access platforms, the NiftyLink tool is a powerful way to gain important data insights on your machines’ health and activity.
Introduce new safety and social distancing measures
When reopening a construction site or adapting one that has remained operational throughout the lockdown, worker safety should be the number one priority. Social distancing can be difficult on a construction site, but if you implement practical new safety measures, they’ll soon become commonplace and high levels of productivity can resume once again.
According to statements announced in a recent webinar hosted by RICS, there are multiple ways to ensure the safety of your workers when they return to the construction site:
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to each member of your workforce.
- Distance your cabins farther apart than usual.
- Stagger your employees’ starting times to avoid a rush at a certain time of day.
- Install extra washing points and make hygiene equipment such as hand sanitisers readily available.
- Employ a social distance co-ordinator on your site.
These are certainly daunting times for the construction industry, but history tells us that construction will play an important role in rebuilding our economy. Many have compared the current situation to wartime, both in our collective response and in the economic impact. In the aftermath of the Second World War, construction flourished and the 1950s and 1960s are often referred to as a ‘Golden Age’ for the industry. Let’s hope that the construction industry can emulate these efforts and lead the way as we work to rebuild Britain.