SINGAPORE: About 10 per cent of the more than 2,500 construction sites inspected since June have had to step up safety measures against COVID-19 after “shortcomings” were found, said the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).
“We have conducted follow-up inspections to ensure that the builders have made the necessary improvements,” BCA told CNA on Sep 4.
“Some of the improvements include dividing the work zones into smaller ones for better segregation, staggered timings for movement at common access areas, dedicated rest areas and toilets for work zones or to have staggered timings for their usage.”
BCA said it has been conducting an average of 300 inspections a week since June.
Although the agency noted that the overall number of shortcomings has fallen over time, it said it will step up checks.
“BCA will step up the frequency of inspections, depending on findings from initial inspections and the risk profile of each site, to ensure that work sites continue to implement and practise safe management measures,” it added.
NEW NORMAL AT WORK SITES
Safe management measures such as installing contact tracing apps, having sanitiser stations and implementing several rounds of disinfecting at common areas daily are needed for construction sites to be allowed to resume work.
Cohorting workers has proven to be the most challenging requirement, according to one builder working on a site for an executive condominium in the north of Singapore.
To avoid mixing on-site, workers from different sub-contractors are assigned separate zones – delineated with neon yellow railings – and they must scan contact tracing QR codes whenever they enter or leave these areas.
The letters of their zones are also emblazoned across their helmets to make sure any “trespassers” will be quickly spotted.
“If other sub-contractors are zone A and they come to zone B, that's not allowed … and if I see anyone coming, I must inform my supervisor immediately,” said Ramaiah Senthil, a worker with Straits Construction.
When it comes to staggered break times, workers are put in separate rest areas where there are makeshift “cubicles” comprising boarded-up tables and benches.
After each group’s turn, the area is put through a thorough disinfection.
When the day is done, some workers travel in dedicated buses straight back to their dormitories. Others live on-site in temporary living quarters, such as a former site office for the project.
It takes weeks of planning to put these measures in place, according to Mr Don Wilson Paua, a senior manager for workplace safety for the firm.
“It’s very challenging with the limitations on workers’ movements and having to observe all the safe distancing measures.
“It has become a new norm that everything has to be planned out in advance so works can go smoothly,” said Mr Paua.
Implementing the measures means building activity at the site is currently only at 60 per cent of what it could have been pre-pandemic, according to the firm’s chief operating officer Kenneth Loo.
When asked about the costs of putting these safe management measures in place, Mr Loo said: “The partition and sanitiser costs are not a big cost compared to the loss in productivity and the labour costs that we will be up with going forward.
“With more zones, your work process will actually be slower, because you can't do a lot of things concurrently so the impact of cost is actually much higher."
Mr Loo also said projects could be delayed by at least six months, given the “circuit breaker” time-out and the time needed to gear up to the current stage of work.
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But it could get worse if more dormitory clusters re-emerge, he said.
“Once there is a case (in a dormitory), they will lock down the whole block. It may not be my workers that are infected, but if they are staying there, they are also implicated.”
COURSE FOR SAFE MANAGEMENT OFFICERS
Mr Paua and Mr Loo are among those from the company who have undergone a BCA course to train safe management officers tasked with implementing measures on site to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
According to BCA, about 50,000 people have completed the course.
“This is far more than the number of SMOs (safe management officers) required for the industry, which is just one per worksite,” said BCA.
“We understand that many participants, though not appointed as SMOs or Safe Distancing Officers for their worksites, had attended the course to better understand the safe management measures to be implemented for their construction projects,” it added.
“This is an encouraging indication of the industry taking the safe management measures seriously.