Construction sector says distancing impractical on site

By Madhusha Thavapalakumar
Maintaining physical distance on construction sites as directed by the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services is impractical at most times, according to industry stakeholders.

Last week, the Ministry of Health issued a set of guidelines to be followed by the building and construction sector once it commences work following curfew relaxation, which is expected to take place tomorrow (4).

Ensuring a physical distance of one metre between two workers is one of the key guidelines, but is the hardest guideline to follow, the stakeholders told The Sunday Morning Business.

A senior industry official told us, on condition of anonymity, that maintaining physical distance between two workers could be possible in construction projects that mostly use machinery, but in terms of high-rise building constructions, it is out of the question.

“Road and irrigation projects are mostly constructed using machinery. Physical distancing can be maintained in such projects. But for closed projects like sewage canals and high-rise buildings, working as a group is inevitable,” the official noted.

On a further note, the official added that construction work is mostly team-based work where people cannot maintain a distance of one metre. According to the official, a construction elevator at a high-rise construction usually transports 15-20 people at a time from the ground to the top floors. If physical distancing is to be maintained, this would have to be cut down to four or five people.

“If we are to transport four or five people at a time, let’s say to the 16th floor, we’d have to transfer people until noon, given that these elevators are not as fast as elevators installed inside a building. We have to incur additional costs and workers would not like it either,” the official added.

In addition to maintaining physical distance at the worksite, guidelines recommend maintaining distance at common areas and cafeterias, ensuring adequate handwashing stations and resting areas, and at least one washroom for 20 workers. Another senior official who preferred to remain unnamed noted that to undertake these measures, existing facilities have to be expanded, which the industry would be fine with if it was given more time.

Furthermore, he added that the industry has almost completed placing orders for thermometers to check the body temperature of employees when they report to work, which is one of the guidelines.

The guidelines further list out providing facemasks and separate helmets for workers and disinfecting these on a daily basis, which, according to the official, is a safety measure that has been in place in the industry even prior to Covid-19. However, the official added that workers are generally hesitant to wear helmets and masks throughout the day and added that they tend to wear these only when their supervisors check them.

The Ministry of Health has been issuing interim operational guidelines on preparedness and response to the Covid-19 outbreak in work settings. Under these directions, a set of guidelines were issued to management in the construction and building sector.

The first guideline is that the management should take efforts to run the worksite with only the resident workers rather than employ workers from outside. In cases where outside workers have to be brought in due to unavoidable circumstances, the management has to ensure workers with fever or respiratory symptoms or those in quarantine or who had close contact with a Covid-19 patient do not report to work.

Fingerprint scanners at construction sites have to be disinfected after every shift and workers have to use sanitiser before and after placing their fingers. Furthermore, the management has to limit the number of workers, postpone non-essential training, establish specific walkways to the construction site, and ensure proper and safe waste disposal, amongst many other guidelines for the construction and building sector.