Screening of workers, self-isolation where appropriate, physical distancing, behavioural controls, maintenance of shared spaces and touchpoints are among measures needed to maintain work sites which are safe from COVID-19 transmission, updated guidelines from a working party involving 13 industry lobby groups in Victoria and nationwide say.

Releasing their latest 20 page document, the groups say the guidelines reflect an industry response which protects worker and public health yet minimises coronavirus implications for the industry and its workforce.

“The working party has collaborated to develop an industry response, which is proportionate and takes care of building and construction workers while doing everything it can to avoid going into lock down,” the groups say.

“Closing a site, or many sites, will cost many businesses more than some of them can bear. The flow on effects of insolvency will cause unprecedented economic hardship for business, workers and their families. It will also result in massive delays to project completion dates and have flow on effects to public and private developers, investors and clients.

“Recovering from this scenario is likely to be slow and difficult due to the economic dependencies and systemic impacts.”

Whilst the guidelines relate to Victoria, several principles will apply nationwide.

According to the guidelines, control measures on site should include:

  • Screening workers coming to site, including requiring workers to sign declarations that they have not been oversees or had contact with the coronavirus and asking whether or not they have been overseas, been in contact with anyone who has coronavirus or has flu like symptoms at the start of each shift
  • Self-isolation of workers where they have been overseas, been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for the virus or have flu like symptoms.
  • Physical distancing by, for instance, having people work remotely, spreading out site amenities/holding meal breaks outside or alternating meal breaks and staging or reducing the number of trades working in one area at any time. Detailed guidelines are given in the above document for physical distancing on lifts and hoists.
  • Promoting good hygiene through displaying information throughout prominent locations, providing facilities for hand washing and hand sanitisation, boosting industrial grade cleaning and decontamination, providing PPE including gloves and using toolbox meetings to communicate information.
  • Maintaining shared spaces and touchpoints, including cleaning and minimising use of shared tools; conducting twice daily cleans of frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, lift buttons, fridges/microwaves and tapware; allocating specific site amenities to specific trades; avoiding personal meetings where possible and maintaining a clean site with provisions of rubbish bins for tissues and used PPE
  • Engaging with Worksafe/VBA inspections on cooperative basis.
  • Maintaining a clear communication structure between employers, unions and workers.
  • Using other measures such as minimising face to face meetings, reducing meeting length and size, offsite fabrication, promoting work from home arrangements where feasible and structuring management teams to ensure contingency should specific workers need to be quarantined.

The guidelines also outline what should happen where workers test positive to COVID-19 or display potential symptoms along with when sites should be shut down and what happens when sites are closed.

Of course, the above is a point form overview only – workers and employers are advised to read the detailed guidelines (see link above).

The thirteen unions and industry associations involved in the working group include the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Air Conditioning & Mechanical Contractors Association, the Australian Workers Union, CFMEU Victoria, the Civil Contractors Federation, the Electrical Trades Unions, Master Builder Victoria, Master Plumbers, the National Fire Industry Association, the National Electrical and Communications Association, the Pluming and Pipe Trades Employees Union, the Property Council of Australia and the Urban Development Institute of Australia.

The guidelines were developed with the support of the Victorian State Government with discussions were facilitated by the Victorian Building Industry Disputes Panel

The guidelines incorporate earlier guidelines for construction sites issued by the Victorian Government.

They will be updated as appropriate to reflect changes from government announcements, directions from the Victorian Chief Health Officer and best practice.

The groups says thorough practices must be employed on sites.

“Given this is an unprecedented situation, it is recommended that all participants, employers and workers and the unions keep themselves and each other well-informed and start planning for various contingencies. In all cases, it is better for employers, unions and workers to engage and agree a way forward together.”

“These guidelines are to be read to cover all personnel attending on a building site or project, whether management, staff, employees, contractors or service providers, as applicable.”