Construction workers to be tested regularly when projects gradually resume after circuit breaker

Construction workers to be tested regularly when projects gradually resume after circuit breaker

SINGAPORE: Construction firms must implement safety measures for workers when projects gradually resume after the "circuit breaker" period ends on Jun 1, including regular COVID-19 tests and managing interactions on rest days.

Foreign workers in the construction industry will be tested both before they return to work and routinely every two weeks when they are back on the job, said Hugh Lim, CEO of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) at a media briefing on Friday (May 15). 

Additionally, employers must put in place a system to track the daily health status of every worker daily, said Mr Lim. 

Currently, about 20,000 construction workers - or about five per cent of the sector’s workforce - have been allowed to work on a small number of critical infrastructure projects during the circuit breaker period.

Another 20,000 workers are expected to gradually resume work in June, said Mr Lim.

The projects that will be allowed to resume from Jun 2 are those that cannot be left idle for too long due to safety concerns, or critical and time-sensitive projects such as MRT works and deep tunnel sewerage system tunnelling projects, said BCA in a separate press release.

Previously suspended residential renovation works will also be allowed to resume, said BCA.

READ: Like a 'giant N95 mask': Safer, faster COVID-19 testing of migrant workers with new mobile swab station

WORKERS TO BE HOUSED BASED ON PROJECTS, NO INTERACTION BETWEEN TEAMS

Employers will also have to house and separate workers based on the projects they are working on under a “cohorting” strategy, and provide transport services between the worksite and their accommodation, said Mr Lim. Workers from different projects will not be allowed to mix with each other.

At the worksites, companies will have to appoint safe management officers to enforce the safe management measures, put up health advisory posters and infographics in the foreign workers’ native languages, and install “technology-enabled processes” - such as the digital SafeEntry system used islandwide right now - when workers enter and exit specific zones within the worksite.

Workers will be split into teams and restricted to work in a single zone; no cross-deployment or interaction between workers in different teams will be allowed. 

Contractors must provide workers with individually packed meals and utensils as well as masks while they are on the job.

Workers must also put on “visual identifiers” such as coloured vests or armbands to help their colleagues recognise which team they belong to.

As for workplace cleanliness, facilities that are shared and heavily used will have to be well-ventilated and disinfected frequently, while hand-washing stations must be installed at exit points.

Contractors will be responsible for the costs incurred from carrying out these new measures, said National Development Minster Lawrence Wong at a press conference.

He acknowledged that this will lead to higher construction costs that will inevitably be passed on to the consumer. 

“All of us have to be prepared to pay this higher cost, because we want construction work to be done safely,” he said.

Two other industries - the marine and offshore and the process sector - are also developing their own COVID safety plans, said Ministry of Manpower permanent secretary Aubeck Kam. These will be released in due course.

BCA said that it will audit and inspect worksites to make sure they observe these COVID-19 safety rules, with more details to be announced next week.

READ: COVID-19: 20,000 migrant workers to be discharged by end-May, but cases from dormitories likely to remain high

SEPARATING RECOVERED WORKERS FROM OTHER DORM RESIDENTS

Measures must also be taken to change the working and living routines of foreign construction workers, to prevent the risk of reintroducing COVID-19 into dormitories.

This must be done even as steps are being taken to ensure that worker dormitories are infection-free, Mr Kam said. 

While requirements for safe management measures for other industries have already been laid out, the construction sector is one that has seen several workplace clusters, said Mr Kam, who chairs the inter-agency taskforce tackling the COVID-19 crisis in dorms. 

Tighter requirements will be put into place for dormitory blocks that house workers who have either tested negative for COVID-19 or have recovered from the disease, he noted. 

They will be housed in blocks specifically reserved for recovered patients. 

“For a start, they will only be permitted to leave for the purpose of work. After work (they will have) to return immediately to their dormitory,” he said.

Residents will be barred from moving between blocks, while kitchen and toilet facilities such as stoves, toilet showers and sinks will be assigned to individual rooms, said Mr Kam. In this way, occupants in the same room will share the same amenities.

When the number of dormitory cases are “brought down to a very low level”, workers who have recovered might be allowed to leave their premises for “non-work” purposes, said Ms Chew Ee Tien, the director of MOM’s foreign manpower unit.

They will still have to report their health status regularly, she said.

Plans for these blocks for recovered workers are “proceeding well”, said Mr Kam, noting that the inter-agency taskforce expects to have 5,400 beds in such blocks by next week. 

The taskforce aims to recover enough dormitory blocks to house 60,000 workers - or about 20 per cent of the dormitory population - in the coming weeks, he added. 

Mr Kam added that the stay-home notice, which came into place on Apr 20 for foreign construction workers living in private residences and Housing Board flats, will not be extended when it expires on May 19. 

This is because the incidence of COVID-19 among such workers is now similar to that of the community at large, he explained. 

They must however still adhere to circuit breaker measures, such as ensuring only one person at a time leaves the residence for errands.

Watch the full news conference and Q&A session: 

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Source: CNA/rp(aj)

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