Navigating the new normal

By Alex Hill, Managing Director, Whitecode Design Associates

From working at height to heavy materials, hazardous ground conditions and vehicle movements in confined spaces, the construction industry has always had to contend with risk on a day-to-day basis. To a degree the coronavirus is no exception, and its transmission is a hazard. It is another risk we are all facing, and as a sector we need to do our very best to mitigate against it, whilst getting businesses and sites back in operation. That is a difficult balance.

It seemed every construction-related business across the UK waited with baited breath earlier on this week, as the government published its most recent updates regarding how businesses may return to work in this uncertain coronavirus climate. The government released numerous guidance pertaining to various working conditions including ‘offices and contact centres’ and ‘construction and other outdoor work’, advising companies on who can return to work, how to enforce social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and cleanliness.

Whilst these documents are a good starting point, they are by no means comprehensive. There are a more than a few grey areas. This is somewhat inevitable however, as most businesses differ from one to the next – there is no one size fits all.

With this in mind, it is incumbent upon businesses themselves to adopt their own measures to keep staff and their supply chain safe, whilst continuing operations under these ‘new normal’ conditions.

What is Whitecode doing?

Thankfully, Whitecode Design Associates is in a position to colour in (some!) of the grey areas of the government’s guidance. We often use thermal imaging to analyse buildings. Incidentally, thermography can produce a highly accurate measurement of people’s body temperature. The government’s guidance shows no mention of businesses testing the temperatures of its staff, which is to me an essential conception which should be part of a safety process going forward!

I am a Level 2 thermographer and I take real comfort in the fact I can use this skill to protect my staff. We plan on setting up a temperature monitoring station to keep an eye on our workforce. The thermal imaging equipment can scan our staff, and anyone who is asymptomatic with a temperature above 38 degrees will be asked to go home and self-isolate for 14 days. This will create the safest possible environment for our workers. Whilst this method is not part of the government’s advice, it will enable us to protect our workforce as and when they return to work.

We have also made communication, transparency and safety complete priorities during this opaque time. Very recently we called an all-staff team meeting, including members of staff from our office in South Africa, to keep everyone updated on the latest developments. We were very clear about what their return to the office might look like and how we will manage the process going forward.

We are proactively responding to the ‘new normal’ and will keep the safety of our staff paramount. Our dedicated team members can work from home productively. If they do need to come into the office, we have options such as staggering shifts and attending to the members who arrive to the office via public transport.

When it comes to working onsite, social distancing can be followed as per the government’s guidance. Smaller sites have continued to work during lockdown however many larger ones are now only just re-opening. I have been working onsite alongside my colleagues over the past couple of weeks and was able to keep a safe distance. This is important in two ways: one, it enables me to witness at first hand the challenges of onsite working. Second, it is also about leading by example – I wouldn’t ask my staff to do anything or go anywhere that I am not prepared to do myself. We are confident that we can work safely and will ensure this attitude filters throughout our processes.

At Whitecode Design Associates we have been open for business throughout lockdown and are ready to support the industry so it can adapt to the ‘new normal’. As the saying goes: ‘Change comes from within’, and I believe every one of us should think outside of the box to ensure the safety of staff, visitors and customers. Hopefully then we might be able to keep the risk of coronavirus at bay.