The built environment sector is an industry that has been given greater freedom to operate as South Africans settle into a Phase 4 lockdown level.
Industry body Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) says various industries are getting acquainted with what this means for their operations and how to best get back into action while ensuring the health and safety of the workforce.
While critical public works construction was still allowed under Phase 5 of the lockdown, “other” public works civil engineering projects had to wait for Phase 4 before they could continue.
Cesa CEO Chris Campbell says that beyond the widely reported concerns for the South African economy, the construction industry needs to get back into action for the wellbeing of the country.
He adds that the completion of infrastructure projects is not just about economic stimulation.
"Our country’s public works infrastructure is in dire need of maintenance and development so that it can better serve our people and keep them safe.
“Failed infrastructure is exacerbating the risk of Covid-19, especially when it comes to water, wastewater treatment and sanitation. The construction industry needs to get back to work to mitigate these risks.”
While clean running water is obviously critical for good hygiene, Campbell reports a deeper reason for starting work on water projects, with huge implications for disease control.
“The inlets to wastewater treatment plants can be tested for traces of the coronavirus, and it can be determined which communities are showing higher infection rates. This provides the medical authorities with a clearer idea of where to focus their attention when it comes to screening, testing and treatment for Covid-19,” he explains.
As an industry that is already well-acquainted with health and safety measures, the built environment professionals will surely rise to the challenge of doing everything possible to prevent the spread of the virus.
To assist the industry with best practice guidelines, Cesa has put together a guide for the safe management of work processes.
For those who cannot work from home and must return to the physical workplace, the organisation suggests that employees should wear masks at all times, undergo daily temperature screening, have hand sanitiser available, partake in twice-daily sterilisation of workspaces and common areas, have staggered lunch breaks to avoid crowding and practice 2 m physical distancing at all times.
“It is important to remember that South Africa is still facing a massive risk, and we cannot get complacent. Failure to comply with these measures will see us lose the progress we have made in containing the spread of Covid-19, and South Africa’s economy can ill-afford further restrictions.
“There are of course many unknowns around managing the various exposures that may exist when implementing stages in the full project process and there are no specific guidelines,” notes Campbell.
He adds that with South Africa’s “curve” of infection expected to only peak in September this year, the country has a long way to go before it can relax.