It’s safe to say (no pun intended) that when we looked ahead to 2020, as an organisation we didn’t predict a global pandemic or the effect it would have on the UK construction industry.
As I write this today (in early January 2021) many of our clients – principal contractors and site owners – continue to operate under COVID-19 restrictions, which has resulted in many projects being delayed or disrupted.
In the UK, the Construction Leadership Council has regularly updated its recommended Site Operating Procedures, providing guidance for construction working during the pandemic. This includes controls such as limiting close contact between site operatives, restricting access to essential visitors only, and increasing hygiene protocols on site. I see many of these measures remaining in place in 2021 until coronavirus transmission is reduced.
As a supplier of safety and security solutions, we’ve had to quickly adapt to these changes and find new ways of providing our products and services to the construction industry. For instance, where we would usually attend in person to conduct an initial site assessment, we have produced a free, downloadable risk assessment.
This includes COVID-19- related health and safety measures. Using the comprehensive form, site managers can identify any possible safety and security risks and, with our ‘virtual’ help, put in place the appropriate measures to minimise any harm or damage.
In response to Government guidance promoting increased hand hygiene on construction sites, we launched a range of portable hand wash and sanitiser stations. Not surprisingly, these have been in huge demand - not only on construction sites, but in offices and schools too. Our range of social distancing barriers have been also been popular with businesses creating walkways and cycle paths for safe passage.
Although the US is thought to be further ahead of the UK in terms of drone usage, the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technology across all aspects of construction. Site surveys are being supported by aerial photography, taken using drones, and by using Google maps for measurements, as well as to carry out site assessments and maintenance inspections. Using drones for site assessments also has the added benefit of minimising associated health and safety risks, such as surveying at height, or in dilapidated buildings.
Unmanned aerial vehicles are also being tested for their ability to deliver materials onto site, instead of using ground-based transportation. This has already seen successful deliveries from mainland England to hospitals on the Isle of Wight.
In 2021 the use of digital technologies will continue in the construction industry in order to ensure sites can remain open, essential health and safety guidelines are met, and projects are still delivered on time.
Pre-contract meetings are now widely being carried out over video call, which means less travel to site – with the knock-on benefit of reduced carbon footprint.
On a personal note, we’re seeing real benefits from the shift in working practices in 2020. Our sales team spend a lot of time ‘on the road’, travelling to and from clients’ sites, and to our company headquarters. That can mean long journeys and less time – because of the travel – to be as productive outside of meetings. Now, with more meetings being carried out online, and with the help of new technologies, our account managers are travelling fewer miles - playing their part in reducing our company’s environmental impact and getting to spend more time with their families. Two pretty big wins I think, to come out of an unexpected year.