Mark Starling is a Kier safety, health and environmental (SHE) manager. He is also a chartered member of the CIOB and serves on the CIOB Health, Safety & Welfare (HSW) Group. Here Mark discusses COVID-19’s impact on constructions sites, the way we work and the future of safety in the construction industry.

“I have worked in the construction industry for nearly 25 years, with 12 of those years spent at Kier as a safety, health and environmental manager, managing a team of SHE Advisers on major construction sites. In all those years, these past months have been the most challenging but also the most rewarding. COVID-19 has resulted in unprecedented demands for our advice with safety teams working on construction projects adapting our approach to risk management at an extreme pace.

When the Government announced lockdown on 23 March, we needed to react quickly to provide advice and guidance to our teams to allow them to continue their work safely. We immediately completed in depth workplace risk assessments on every site to determine what controls were required to reduce the risk.

The publication of the Construction Leadership Council’s first Site Operating Procedures (SOP) was a real turning point and gave us a straightforward ‘rule book’ to follow, ensuring we were able to keep our construction sites open and productive, delivering projects to our clients.

Our team at Kier played a lead role in developing the updated Construction Leadership Council’s SOP.
We have further developed this guidance and worked collaboratively with other tier one contractors to develop tier one guidance that has been adopted across the industry.

From revamping our site offices to adhere to the two-meter distancing rules, to putting in place one-way systems, we had a key focus on setting visual standards with over emphasised pictorial signage and very clear zone markings on site so that everyone would immediately understand what was expected of them before reading any words or even if there was a language barrier in place.

We have adapted our programmes to ensure that fewer people would be working in any given area at a time. We also changed our front of house access control, disconnecting our fingerprint scanners, replacing them with a card entry system. We found ways to incorporate tools and technology, for example, instead of our dry liners manually lifting plasterboard together we now use a mechanical plasterboard lifter.
In our welfare facilities we have increased drying room sizes and revamped canteens to have long tables with appropriate distancing marked off. We have also made better use of our outside spaces by setting up outdoor seating areas (with social distancing in place) for breaks.

The COVID-19 situation has made a massive impact on our industry and I believe that it will result in a shift in the way we work, creating the ‘new normal’. We are focusing on making permanent positive changes to our business to ensure we are compliant whilst still being productive, reducing ill health, accidents and incidents whilst protecting our environment. We will continue to use new innovative tools to support our teams, using technology more in the future for training, meetings, events, audits and inspections.

It has been a tough journey so far, but it is thanks to our colleagues that we have a roadmap and winning recipe in place for the future. I am proud to have been part of this whole process and I am proud of everyone in our industry who stood together in these challenging times. I believe that our collective effort will bring about positive change to the industry moving forward.”

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