Building and construction: Minimising the risk from COVID-19
The Western Australian occupational safety and health laws require employers to take care of the safety and health of their workers and others at the workplace.
- providing and maintaining a safe and healthy work environment; and
- adequate facilities for workers in carrying out their work.
Employers must identify risks at the workplace, and where possible eliminate or minimise those risks.
Workers in the building and construction industry are at risk of exposure to COVID-19
The number of workers on a construction project can vary significantly between projects and from day to day. Where workers work closely together it increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19. You must therefore do everything that is reasonably practicable to keep workers at a safe physical distance apart of at least 1.5 metres while they are onsite or working.
You must implement control measures to minimise the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that other measures to address well known work safety and health risks continue to be implemented (e.g. Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)). This is the case even if implementing control measures results in delays to your project schedule or cause disruption.
Managing the risks of exposure to COVID-19
Physical distancing on construction sites will be challenging at times but is a key measure to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
You must do what you can to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19:
- Limit physical interactions between workers, workers and clients, and workers and other people at the site (e.g. deliveries) and use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate.
- Limit worker numbers on site where possible.
- Split shifts into AM and PM
- Reduce the number of tasks to be completed each day
- Facilitate work from home, where you can.
- Create specific walkways through the construction site to maintain physical separation.
- Stagger meal and break times to limit the number of workers congregating in one area. Spread out furniture in crib/break rooms.
- Conduct toolbox and other meetings online, including through an app, where you can. If not, conduct such meetings in wide open spaces to enable workers to keep the required physical distance of at least 1.5metres.
- Limit the number of workers in the hoist/lift at any one time. Promote the use of stairs but be aware of any indirect risks that may arise from this and cause injuries.
- Prevent queues at hoists/lifts.
- Postpone non-essential training.
- Place signage about physical distancing around the work site where you can.
- If physical distancing measures introduce new safety and health risks (e.g. because they impact communication), you need to manage those risks too.
Nominate a responsible officer on site to make sure your workers are following the rules for physical distancing.
The Australian Government Department of Health has a range of posters and other resources aimed at educating the public about COVID-19. These posters can be placed in client-facing work environments like workplace entrances.
Health checks and quarantine
The health of your workers should be checked for key symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever.
- Direct all workers (whether they are at the workplace or not) to report to you if:
- they are experiencing any symptoms
- they have been, or have potentially been, exposed to a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is suspected to have COVID-19 (even if the person who is suspected to have COVID-19 has not yet been tested), or
- they have undertaken, or are planning to undertake, any travel.
- Encourage workers to report if they observe another worker is displaying any symptoms.
- Prohibit workers working if they are displaying symptoms.
- Prohibit workers who have contracted COVID-19 from returning to the workplace until they provide evidence they are clear of the virus.
The time COVID-19 survives on objects and surfaces will vary. Environmental cleaning is one way to remove COVID-19 particles.
Construction work inevitably requires regular touching of objects and surfaces. This means that usual cleaning schedules on construction sites will need to be increased.
- Frequently touched surfaces on a construction site, including any plant, equipment, lifts, hoists, handrails and doors, should be cleaned frequently using appropriate detergent or disinfectant solutions.
- Site amenities, including lunch rooms, site offices, change rooms, toilets, showers, drink fountains and vending machines, should be thoroughly and frequently cleaned.
To minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19, the person cleaning should wear gloves and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after wearing gloves. Gloves and alcohol-based hand sanitiser should be made available throughout the construction site. Workers should be trained to clean down plant or equipment immediately after use.
Workplaces should consider limiting or reducing recirculated air-conditioning in common areas.
See the Department of Health information sheet on Environmental cleaning and disinfection-principles for COVID-19 for further information.
Workers should be required to practise good hygiene. This includes:
- covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow or a tissue
- disposing of tissues properly
- washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet
- using alcohol-based hand sanitisers
- cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
- washing body, hair (including facial hair) and clothes thoroughly every day
- staying more than 1.5 metres away from others, and
- staying home if sick.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, workers should also:
- avoid touching their face
- avoid handshakes or any other close physical contact
- refrain from spitting at all times, and
- put cigarette butts in the bin.
Washroom facilities on construction sites should have adequate supplies for good hygiene, such as adequate supply of soap, water and toilet paper. Washroom facilities must be kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order.
Construction sites should be well stocked with alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
- adequately delineate between the construction site and the common areas. This could include reminding workers (with posters or through training) to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or sanitise their hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser, before entering and exiting a common area.
- adopt a coordinated approach to reducing the number of workers utilising the common areas at a given time by staggering meal breaks, start times and coordinating work and planning.
- inform workers of workplace etiquette and standards expected when utilising common areas. For example, cleaning up after yourself, placing rubbish in bins provided or avoiding putting items such as phones on meal surfaces.
- consider reducing the number of touch points for workers. For example, leaving access doors open, where appropriate.
Deliveries and other contractors attending the workplace
Non-essential visits to the workplace should be cancelled or postponed.
Deliveries and contractors who need to attend the workplace should be given clear instructions of your requirements while they are on site.
Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible. Make alcohol-based hand sanitiser available for workers after physically handling deliveries.
Direct visiting truck drivers to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with workers wherever possible.
Where possible use, electronic paper work to minimise physical interaction and set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, confirmation emails or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods might be accepted as proof of delivery or collection.
Keep workers informed
You should provide workers with information about the risks of exposure to COVID-19. Where required, workers should be trained in infection control.
The Australian Government Department of Health has a range of posters and other resources aimed at educating the public about COVID-19.
Consultation and communicating with workers
You should consult with workers on safety and health matters relating to COVID-19. Allow workers to express views before you make decisions.
You should also consult with other duty holders working on site.
Workers are most likely to know about the risks of their work. Involving them will help build worker commitment to this process and any changes.
The guidance note: formal consultative processes in the workplace can give you more information about consultation in your workplace.
Communicate clearly with workers about control measures. Provide clear direction and guidance about what is expected of workers.
Workers should know:
- when to stay away from the workplace
- what action to take if they become unwell
- what symptoms to be concerned about.
Remind workers they have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and to not adversely affect the safety and health of others.
Provide workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns, and access to support services, including employee assistance programs.
Further information and resources
Safe Work Australia materials
- Construction work model code of practice
- Managing the work environment and facilities model Code of Practice
Other useful resources
- Western Australia Commission for Occupational Safety and Health - Guidance note: Formal consultative processes at the workplace
- Housing Industry Association – COVID-19 (Coronavirus) update
- COVID-19 Master Builders of WA information
- Master Builders Association Victoria – COVID-19 – Guidelines for the building and construction industry Australia
- Master Builders Association NSW – Coronavirus information
- Master Builders Association ACT - COVID-19 Information
- Fair Work Ombudsman – Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws
- Australian Government Treasury – Support for Businesses
- Australian Taxation Office – COVID-19: information for small business
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