‘Social Distancing’ on Sites Buys Construction Sector Some Time


McNab construction manager Carl Nancarrow says the construction industry's long-standing focus on safety coupled with newly-enacted social distancing measures should allow projects across the country to keep progressing.

The construction industry has faced mounting pressure during the coronavirus outbreak, and is now attempting to balance new health measures in a bid to try to keep projects running on schedule.

Measures such as social distancing, staggered shifts and break times as well as site wide decontamination is now the “new normal” at construction sites across the country.

Like any industry facing closure under rapidly tightening regulations, the financial blow for the 1.2 million people directly employed in Australian construction could be significant.

For the foreseeable future, construction sites remain open, recognised as an essential service under the current federal government shutdowns.

“The prime minister and chief health minster were very clear in their address to the nation that keeping the economy going and beating Covid-19 are not mutually exclusive. We can do both,” Nancarrow said.

“Key to this are the stringent social distancing measures we’re taking on our sites, as well as the response we get from all other stakeholders and the community.

“We’re in it together and if across the industry we can keep our workforce healthy and operational we can continue to keep thousands of local tradies and suppliers employed at a time when many others are losing their jobs.”

social distancing construction site
▲ The second known coronavirus case on a construction site has been confirmed at Multiplex’s Melbourne Square, one of the largest development projects in Victoria.

John Holland, which has 60 projects across Australia, New Zealand and south-east Asia, has also introduced staggered shifts and visitors restrictions on site.

The builder has also established a coronavirus taskforce to plan for forthcoming developments.

Multiplex has put in similar measures in line with government advice, as well as using outdoor spaces for breaks and on-site meetings.

Development giant Lendlease has segregated its workforce to minimise large gatherings.

To date, the industry has confirmed two coronavirus cases, at Multiplex’s Melbourne Square and Kane Constructions new student precinct project at the University of Melbourne, reinforcing the need for distancing measures.

The impact of the coronavirus on the building supply chain has also been felt across the country due to building materials shortages brought on by the restrictions of movement.

Industry body Master Builders said that despite vital industries being shut down across the country, construction remained an important cornerstone and significant driver of the economy.

“We have reached out to council to relax the current time restrictions on construction work so that we can continue to keep as many people working as possible, while adhering to the physical distancing requirements,” Master Builders regional manager Will Wilson said.

“If we can extend working hours to compensate for the extra time taken to adhere to physical distancing we can ensure people keep their jobs and do not add to the current drain on our welfare system, which is going to be vastly overwhelmed with the current restrictions.”

Industry lobbyists have argued that in the face of further federal restrictions building sites would need to keep functioning in order to support critical infrastructure including new health facilities.

The federal government has also earmarked $130 billion towards wage subsidies over the next six months in a bid to stave off further job losses.

Approximately 50,000 construction jobs were lost over 2019 as the sector's share of the total labour market shrivelled to 9.1 per cent from its peak of 9.5 per cent a year earlier, in the aftermath of the housing downturn.


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