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Preparing the country for a return to work

24th April 2020

As temporary works designers, for projects of all sizes, from housing development access roads to cofferdams, much of our work is required at short notice, which can make resourcing an issue.

It is typically feast or famine in the office, with overworking everybody one week, to not enough work to keep everybody going for the next week, but those are the joys of running a successful consulting engineers.

However, that all changed when the country went into lockdown on 23rd March, at which point the number of enquiries and new orders we received dropped by 80% – all famine with little sign of a feast to follow.

This was a direct effect of most of the sites we were working on and the contractors we work for, closing their sites or having them closed for them by the principal contractor.

The government has always said that the construction industry should keep going, but it has been difficult for the sites to do this and it’s not hard to see why.

Firstly, there were problems with the London Underground being overcrowded, at a time when the public was urged to maintain 2m of social distancing – regulars users of the underground would be grateful for 20cm of distance, let alone 2m!

Social distancing on construction sites

And then there are the obvious problems on site with maintaining the required social distancing – tricky to work in confined spaces and maintain separation, or carry anything less than 2m long that requires two people.

But perhaps now there is some good news filtering through and not just with the apparent slowing of the number of infections and deaths from the virus. It is good to see that over the last few days, the construction industry seems to be getting back to work.

There have been numerous reports of sites re-opening, which is good for everyone not least the UK economy as a whole which has taken a massive hit over the last month or so.

It is worth remembering that the sector contributes £117billion to the UK economy, around 6% of the total and almost 2.5 million jobs rely on construction, demonstrating the important role the sector will play in dragging the country back to prosperity.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC), which works between industry and government to identify and deliver actions supporting UK construction, has issued site operating procedures (SOPs) which if fully implemented show how to run a site and maintain social distancing.

The SOPs illustrate that many of the problems are not undertaking the work itself, but the related aspects of sites, such as getting there, accessing the site, mealtimes, use of toilets and washing facilities.

The good news is that ever-adaptable contractors are finding more and more ways to work around these difficulties with measures such as enhanced cleaning regimes, additional PPE and staggered breaks.

I’m sure things won’t go back to the way they were before completely, but it is encouraging that we have started to adapt and get back to work, even if me and my team remain supporting our clients remotely – although I expect site visits to resume soon.