COVID-19: Impact and Responses in the Construction Industry

By Anastasia Herasimovich & Matthew I. Martin: Baker McKenzie

COVID-19 continues to present challenges to owners and impose new regulatory requirements with respect to workplace health and safety. We are continuing to monitor industry changes and can advise you on the issues above or others you may face related to COVID-19.

As a result of COVID-19, the construction industry has been forced to adapt to significant challenges and formulate project-by-project solutions to mitigate the delays and other impacts caused by COVID-19 whilst protecting commercial interests. This alert discusses how COVID-19 is impacting the construction industry and best practices for owners and developers when responding to these challenges.

1 WORKPLACE SAFETY GUIDELINES 

Minimizing the spread of COVID-19 has become a top priority for all responsible participants in construction projects. Thus, key participants (including the owner/developer, general contractor, and key subcontractors) will need to jointly develop a plan that identifies COVID-19 related health and safety precautions to be deployed at the jobsite, as well as the party responsible for implementing these precautions. Local governmental agencies, have issued guidance specific to construction jobsites to ensure safe and healthful working conditions during these unprecedented times (although the extent to which such guidance is binding varies). Owners are recommended to take steps (or at least make sure that their contractors are taking steps) that represent local best practice, including:

  • use of cleaning chemicals preapproved by local agencies for cleaning frequently touched surfaces such as tools, handles, and machines
  • screening of all visitors and employees for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • performing temperature checks and pre-access jobsite questionnaires
  • establishing protocols to manage employees displaying symptoms of illness in the workplace
  • keeping premises well ventilated
  • instructing employees who travelled to high-risk areas to quarantine for an appropriate period.

Of course, compliance with local social distancing and other binding regulations (including site shutdowns, reduced workforces etc.) will be critical. Local governments may require owners and/or contractors to safely secure a jobsite and suspend construction until a corrective action plan is prepared, submitted and approved by an applicable governmental authority. Owners may also be required to appoint an individual responsible for the company’s compliance with local guidance and safety orders. In geographic areas where COVID-19 cases have elevated or resurged, local governmental agencies may conduct onsite inspections. In the event of an inspection, owners and/or contractors will likely be asked to produce, among other things, a written pandemic plan, procedures for hazard assessment, protocols for personal protective equipment use, medical records related to worker exposure incidents, and information concerning periodic testing procedures.

2 SYSTEMIC APPROACH IN HANDLING COVID-19 IS KEY 

Before developing specific solutions, we recommend project owners, especially those with multi-site (including multijurisdictional) construction programs, develop a unified approach on how to handle COVID-19 systematically and effectively. Starting even before March 2020 (as supply chain disruptions were first being experienced), many contractors have notified project owners of their intention to invoke the doctrine of force majeure as justification for suspension, shutdowns, and possible delays and cost increases on their construction projects. Before responding to these notices and requests, it may be helpful for project owners to take the following steps:

  1. Analyze the contractual position, which would include analysis of the following:
  • whether force majeure exists as a contract remedy, and if not, whether there is another term such as “excused delay” which may be triggered by the particular circumstances notified
  • suspension (and termination) rights and remedies of the parties, including as to different consequences depending on which party exercises such rights
  • entitlements to additional payment that may arise from force majeure or excused delay (or change in law)
  • analysis of whether there is any business interruption policy or other insurance which could respond to any of the costs and losses resulting from COVID-19.
  1. In addition to examining existing contracts, project owners with multiple projects in different jurisdictions may benefit from a general legal force majeure guidance that would cover the following:
  • what force majeure means and whether it can be used to excuse non-performance
  • differences between common and civil law jurisdictions (e.g., under civil law systems, force majeure generally exists as a doctrine established by a civil code, and force majeure concepts imbedded within that code may actually override the contractual terms agreed to between the parties in the contract; whereas under common law systems, force majeure will not usually apply automatically as it is rather a creation of a contract and subject to a meeting of the minds as to its consequences)
  • if project owners did not have force majeure clauses in their existing contracts, they may want to consider preparing standard force majeure language to include in applicable contracts currently under negotiation, at least to incorporate known effects of COVID-19.

3 MAINTAIN RECORD OF IMPACTS 

Very often, COVID-19 guidelines and additional work requirements will impact work schedules and the productivity of contractors. In the event a construction site is shut down due to a governmental order, owners should meet with their contractors to determine the status of their projects at the time of the shutdown and the work remaining. Moving forward, owners should request their contractors to submit detailed reports of impacts and real time itemization. Parties to construction contracts should regularly collect data regarding the circumstances affecting the work and their mitigating efforts. This data collection will allow the parties to accurately track impacts and anticipate delays and extra expenditures.

4 DETERMINE COST AND SCHEDULE IMPACT 

Parties to contracts predating the outbreak of COVID-19 must analyze the usual time extension and additional cost grounds, as well as any force majeure and change in law provisions, to understand how the risk is allocated between owner and contractor. Some force majeure provisions will extend to pandemics and the typical outcome would therefore be that the contractor is entitled to time extensions but no additional cost (although force majeure remedies are contractual and can therefore vary from contract to contract). Some contracts protect contractors from some or all consequences of change in law, and the contractor may therefore find itself protected against certain regulatory responses to COVID-19, even if not against the direct consequences of COVID-19 itself. In addition, unforeseen circumstances such as COVID-19 may well qualify for certain extensions of time grounds and additional cost through the usual time and cost grounds. In each case, though, it is important to analyze the specific contractual language and to remember that the contractor will be required to mitigate the impacts to secure full contractual entitlements. Where suppliers and subcontractors are the cause of the delays, this may include procuring the materials elsewhere, possibly at higher purchase prices.

There is a spectrum of risk transfer in construction contracts and scope for varying interpretations of provisions, which do not expressly deal with, but which may be triggered by, COVID-19 and the fallout from it. How a particular owner or contractor approaches negotiations will depend upon its analysis of the relevant contractual provisions and the impacts that COVID-19 has on the project (particularly the economic fallout) as well as the relationship between the parties. In the early days of COVID-19 and enforced site shutdowns, amidst a general sense of despair about the growing pandemic (which then was not expected to have the longevity now known), we found many parties wanted to collaborate to establish a framework for cost and/or time adjustments. There was a sense in many negotiations that both parties were simply in this together along with everyone else and that the impacts would to some extent be shared. Many contractors recognized that they could not expect full protection in a world where everyone else was taking a hit, whilst of course also still protecting their bottom lines and looking to owners to accept delays in procurement and progress.

As time has gone on and as the industry has adjusted to the new normal, we have seen both owner and contractors taking a firmer position and digging their heels in, leading to continuing uncertainty as to how certain COVID-19 related time and cost claims will ultimately be resolved but often with a resolve to minimize the delays (in part at least due to the uncertainty as to how delay claims will ultimately be resolved).

In addition, owners should review their contractual pricing structures. For cost-plus contracts, owners will often bear all increases to cost of work caused by COVID-19. Possible cost containment actions may include issuing a stop work order or amending budgets and project schedules to provide for the bifurcation of work between suspended on-site work and ongoing planning and design work. As to Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) contracts, contractors bear cost overruns if GMP has been fixed, as owners have price protection and can leave to contractors the discretion to manage COVID-19 related issues, but the abovementioned contractual provisions may provide for an adjustment to the GMP. It is also important to assess how contingencies are structured, whether they are available to respond to COVID-19 costs and which party controls these. Similar to GMP contracts, fixed sum contracts protect owners since contractors agree to perform the work for a predetermined amount, regardless of whether costs and expenses such as labour or supplies rise, but the fixed price may be subject to adjustment for certain COVID-19 related impacts. Notwithstanding the agreed pricing structure, owners should work closely with their contractors to try to prevent liquidity issues and should agree any changes in cost or timing in writing (usually by change order) to avoid uncertainty.

5 NEW NEGOTIATION POINTS 

Now that the construction industry is adapting to its new normal, with its increased cost-base and productivity and scheduling challenges, many parties are looking to address the impacts of COVID-19 upfront in their contracts to the extent possible. This approach requires adjustments to standard forms and bespoke contracts, often in the form of a tailored COVID-19 clause. Parties should consider the following issues and provisions in future construction contract negotiations:

 

  1. Compensation:there are now known costs associated with social distancing and other COVID-19 related mitigation efforts on construction sites, and these are unlikely to be avoidable in the near future. Contractors will generally allow for such costs in fixed price and GMP amounts, although some contracts include such costs as an allowance item or provide for a reduction in cost if restrictions are lifted sooner than substantial completion. Other COVID-19 related costs, such as delay costs where the delay is not allowed for in the programme and increased costs of procurement due to localized lockdowns may be the subject of additional cost claims, although contractors will often be expected to mitigate these costs and ensure that they have a resilient supply chain (to avoid both such costs and related delays).
  2. Delay entitlements:many new construction contracts allow for delays that can be anticipated due to COVID-19, but not for further shutdowns of sites, whether due to lockdowns or site personnel testing positive. In most cases, contract terms will then allow for the contractor to claim additional extensions of time.
  3. Force majeure:whether contractual force majeure provisions need to be revised to include epidemics, pandemics and related government orders, as well as other methods to mitigate the effects of force majeure events. Often, a pandemic specific clause will better deal with the impacts of COVID-19 rather than a traditional force majeure clause, although some of the provisions may look quite similar.
  4. Changes or extra work clauses:whether owners can require contractors to perform changed, new, or extra work. The scope and compensation scheme for additional or changed work should also be incorporated.
  5. Changes in applicable law:whether the construction project would be impacted by governmental orders that place restrictions on global supply chain and on the actual construction. Changes in applicable law provisions in construction contracts may grant contractors a right to an extension of time and compensation for inevitable costs incurred due to the changes in applicable law. The bigger challenge is often with best or expected practice around COVID-19 avoidance and mitigation which is not legally binding in nature. Of course, the expectation is then that the contractor complies, but contract protections may not be properly triggered. Parties should be alive to this in their negotiations.
  6. Payment scheme:whether the payment scheme should be adjusted in order to work around the uncertainty of the labor and supply chain markets. For example, owners may want to set a limit on added costs resulting from unforeseen events and any costs beyond such limit may need to be covered by contractors. Owners may also want to pay a percentage of the difference between the actual cost and the maximum price. This encourages contractors to find labor and materials that meet the industry standards but which are also reasonable priced.
  7. Suspension:whether the parties have the right to completely or partially suspend the work and which party will bear the added costs resulting from suspension of work or by increased costs for labor, material, security, additional safety measures, or construction permit extensions. The consequences under many construction contracts will depend on whether the owner or the contractor instructs the suspension, and the consequences should be carefully considered for new contracts.
  8. Termination:whether an owner should have the right to re-evaluate the economic feasibility of moving forward with the project and be able to terminate at will.

 

This article was republished from the Backer McKenzie with permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building a post-pandemic construction sector 

By Cyril Vuyani Gamede 

It is widely accepted that, the best way for the government to stimulate the economy, thus ensuring its quick recovery, is by developing and executing an infrastructure-led economic recovery plan. Job creation in the construction sector will be a vital indicator to measure the success of South Africa’s economic recovery plan.  

This was true prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic but will even grow in importance as local economic activities emerge from the embers of the global meltdown. Thus, initiatives designed to support the growth, and survival, of emerging contractors, should attract greater public attention and draw the support from established companies.  

It is, indeed, possible to achieve the objectives of job creation, empowerment, and skills transfers through far-sighted partnerships between the public and private sectors and a collective commitment to transform the construction industry. 

A working partnership is already up and running and achieving results. Last year the Construction Industry Development Board – cidb – signed an agreement with the Jobs Fund and the leading black-owned infrastructure company, Concor, to support SMEs and individuals who seek to gain a foothold in the sector. 

The aim of the tripartite initiative by the cidb, the Jobs Fund and Concor  is to develop 195 small and medium enterprises, create 1 950 new, permanent jobs and train 2 050 beneficiaries over a three-year period. Jobs are to be created across the spectrum of construction activities – in plumbing, in building, in engineering, quantity surveying and project management. 

 Concor Construction, part of the Southern Palace Group, acts as the implementing agent to identify emerging enterprises who are well-placed to benefit from the initiative, to assist with training and mentoring and to monitor their progress. 

 It was quite clear from the outset that the biggest impediments to the growth of aspiring small ventures are access to capital and market opportunities as well as a lack of technical skills. Thus, the initiative focused on technical skills which will lead to improvements in the cidb gradings of participants and this will, in turn, enable them to participate in larger projects in the future. The aim is to mature small businesses into well-established companies that could operate and thrive in the mainstream economy. 

The participants in the initial stage of the partnership are primarily from Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng with some experience in civil contracting for the building of schools, residential and commercial developments. The project includes a thorough analysis of their business skills to identify areas of strength, but also the needs for organisational reconfiguration, empowerment, and the skills development of employees. 

 Most of the initial targets have already been exceeded with Concor reporting that it accepted nine SMEs in the first six months of the programme and was on track to exceed the objective to create 40 jobs and train a further 40 beneficiaries. 

This is a three-year programme which will gather momentum as it reaches maturity and garners the support from the broader industry. Covid-19 may slow down this momentum over the short term but the national focus on infrastructure and construction as the driver of the post-pandemic recovery will ensure this initiative will survive and thrive. 

 The cidb is a natural participant in this project because of its pivotal role in the construction industry and its proven track record of supporting emerging businesses through regulation and access to opportunities. 

 We have also, through the years, built strong relationships with established players in the construction and engineering sectors and have long been involved in initiatives to link large-tier companies with black-owned enterprises, especially those led by women and the youth. 

 There is a growing recognition of the importance to sustain the growth of SMEs and develop them into sustainable businesses. They are the productive drivers of inclusive economic growth and they will continue to take root in unsaturated sectors of the economy. 

 Moreover, they play a vital role in technical innovation and the utilisation of local resources. This can be a potential gamechanger to determine the post-Covid-19 trajectory of the South African economy. 

 It will lead to increased participation of emerging companies in the 62 vital infrastructure projects that have already been identified and are expected to attract more than R360bn in investment. These projects are designed to unlock infrastructure investment in areas in which the cidb and its partners have considerable expertise such as transport, water and sanitation and human settlements. 

The cidb will continue to support this as a priority initiative. This will, no doubt, be a valuable contribution to our strategic objectives to grow skills in the industry, improve access to opportunities and create partnerships that will contribute to the transformation of the construction sector. 

 Gamede is the CEO of the Construction Industry Development Board. 

 

Extracts From “Ventilation And Covid-19” By Garth Hunter, Occupational Hygienist MSc, ROH SAIOH, CM Saiosh

The size of the droplet / aerosol is critical

The airborne virus is not naked and the size of the carrier drop or aerosol defines transport: how long it stays afloat, how far it can travel, how quickly it falls to surfaces, where it deposits in the respiratory system and how efficiently it is removed by masks and filters. Physics is the same for all viruses.

Many visualisations of the of coronavirus are incorrect. Fallacies include the aerosols looking too small relative to the virus, looking like water and virus only and the mass fraction of the virus being very high. More correct is few microns per aerosol, resembling mucin, NaCI, water and a sprinkle of virus, and the mass fraction of the virus being very low.

Droplets versus aerosols

Droplets have traditionally been defined as >5 µm in size. Regarding particles settling in still air, a particle of 0,5 µm takes 41 hours, while a particle of 100 µm only takes 5,8 seconds. Speaking produces 100x more aerosol than droplets.  Droplets / aerosols inside the body and outside the body are different sizes, which is important for ventilation.

  • Inside the body: Respiratory vs non-respiratory > 5 µm URT < 5 µm LRT
  • Outside the body: Droplets, physics-based cut off 60-100 µm
  • Sprayed: Ballistic drops > 100 µm, direct hit on eye nostril or mouth

Large droplets are sprayed onto the body, and are a form of contact transmission. Aerosols are inhaled into the respiratory system. The primary transmission mechanism of Covid-19 is through aerosol, not large droplets. Measles has an R0 (the reproduction number – how contagious an infectious disease is) of 15; Covid-19 has an R0 of 5,7 and flu has an R0 of 1.3. Covid-19 does not spread between floors on multistorey buildings.

Measles is a high-contagiousness aerosol-driven disease. Covid-19 is likely a lower-contagiousness aerosol driven disease. It infects best at close proximity, also at the room scale if we “help it along” (indoors, low ventilation, long time, no masks). And it has trouble infecting at long range.

Virus concentration and ventilation

Ventilation referred to here can be defined as the designed supply and removal of air to and from a treated space. The particles generated by respiratory activities are small enough to stay suspended in the air for a long time, unless they are removed from the air by ventilation (and other processes).

The ventilation standard in SA is SANS 10400 O (2011): Buildings either naturally ventilated (4.3.1) or artificially ventilated (4.3.2). Two air changes per hour in buildings allows comfort and prevents body odour – the building interior doesn’t smell stuffy. Twelve air changes per hour in buildings prevents the transmission of HBA influenza and Covid-19.

Natural ventilation

There are three fundamental approaches to natural ventilation:

  • Wind-driven cross ventilation (preferred)
  • Buoyancy-driven stack ventilation, and
  • Single-sided ventilation

With no artificial ventilation system present, the only ventilation possible is through opening windows / doors. This tends to present cross-contamination and no dilution of the virus. With a split of a unit air-conditioner and mechanical ventilation, there is no cross-contamination and positive dilution of the virus. Here, the supply of outdoor air is provided to each room, and is extracted and expelled outdoors. Virus concentration is reduced through dilution with provided outdoor air.

Regarding atmospheric pollution, the is no one size fits all solution: with higher atmospheric pollution, there is more reliance on filters and with lower atmospheric pollution, there is more reliance on outdoor air.

See also:

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/aerosols/pdfs/Aerosol_101.pdf

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2763852

 

Fabric Masks: Important information on the do’s and don’ts of which masks to use

General fabric masks with breathing valves and fabric neck buffs

Fabric face masks for general public use with valves or vents permit air to be exhaled through an opening in the material, which can result in expelled respiratory droplets that can reach others – potentially enabling the spread of Covid-19.

General public fabric face masks with breathing valves/vents does not have the necessary barrier efficiency required.
It is therefore NOT recommended for the general public to use fabric face masks with breathing valves or vents. These breathing vent/valve masks defeat the purpose and it is recommended that these types of masks not be worn or sold in the Republic of South
Africa.

Fabric neck buffs, are generally a tube of fabric worn around the neck, are made of thin, stretchy material and offer little to no prevention for respiratory droplets from being expelled by the wearer
and reaching others. It is NOT recommended that these neck buffs be worn as a preventative mechanism against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fabric Selection for Masks

Tests have shown that at least two layers of fabric is sufficient for balancing performance and comfort. An increase in the number of layers will improve the barrier efficiency, but have the opposite effect on breathability.

Using three layers, selecting a non-woven fabric with strong filtering capability as the middle layer is recommended.
Ideally this middle layer should be inserted into the mask (or removed) via an envelope style design to allow for improved cleaning and easy replacement filters when worn out.

It is recommended that the pocket into which it fits be at least 120mm by 100mm to ensure compatibility between multiple masks and filters in production domestically. Clear markings or design options must be used to distinguish between the outside of the mask and the inside of the mask.

Light Steel Frame Hospitals In Support Of The Fight Against The Coronavirus

By John Barnard, Director, SASFA

A total of eight projects, 39 000m2 floor area, using 1000 tons of LSF

It is easy to forget the anxiety that prevailed some six months ago when the Covid-19 infections ran rife. It was during this time that it was decided to urgently add hospital beds to existing capacities to cater for the expected exponential growth in demand for hospital facilities. The core requirement was that construction had to take place at a rate faster than what could be supplied by masonry construction. Accordingly, innovative building systems had to be considered, and light steel framing stood out as the most viable alternative.

A number of smaller hospital projects, not all related to Covid-19, was completed using light steel frame (LSF) during the first half of the year, viz

  • Niemeyer Hospital: Utrecht, KZN, client: DOH, Covid-19 related, scope: roof only, May to Aug 2020 (LSF contractor: Lakeshore Trading)
  • Sonstraal Hospital: Western Cape, client: DOH, scope: walls and roof, 1300m2 and 43t, July to Sept 2020 (LSF Contractor: Steel Modular Construction, Africa)
  • Dorris Goodwin Hospital: Client: DOH, 80m2, 1,5t, April 2020 (LSF contractor: Shospec)
  • Town Hill Hospital: Roof only, 2500m2 and 19t, Apr to Sept 2020 (LSF contractor: Shospec).
  • George Mukhari Hospital: Garankuwa, 746m2 floor area – floor joists, walls and roof. 22t of LSF used in a premanufactured panel system –10 blocks of 1 140m2 = > 63t of LSF
  • In Cape Town, LSFCo is busy with Sonstraal hospital in Paarl – 1 400m2, requiring about 47t LSF.

 

The two mega projects aimed at providing for the expected threat of Covid infections were the Jubilee field hospital in Hammanskraal (north of Pretoria), and the Baragwanath Hospital (near Soweto).

Project name: Jubilee field hospital, Hammanskraal (North of Pretoria)

Concor was the main contractor for the Jubilee Field Hospital. Futurecon was awarded the contract for the supply and erection of the LSF for the internal and external walls and roofs, clad, lined and insulated with windows installed. From 27 July 2020 they had to complete the project in 10 weeks on 27 September 2020.

The project entailed the supply of 10 000m2 of hospital wards and associated buildings, housing beds in general wards, and in high and intensive care. The foundations were supplied by Concor.

Futurecon had to hand over 1 000m2 of hospital buildings per week. And they kept to the programme, barring two weeks when they were not allowed onto the site due to disturbance caused by the local communities.

They used fibre cement external cladding, supplied by Etex Group (Marley Building Systems). OSB timber strips were used as thermal break between the external cladding and the LSF. A vapour permeable membrane was installed around the outside of the wall frames to waterproof and draughtproof the buildings, while allowing any vapour in the wall cavities to escape outwards. 102mm thick Cavity Bat glass wool insulation was installed in the wall cavities, with 15mm fireproof gypsum board on the inside, to provide a 1-hour fire rating.

The installers of the services found installation in the LSF walls very easy and quick, as there was no cutting and chasing of masonry walls required. They were able to carry out their work in tandem with the LSF project teams, speeding up the completion of the final project.

Even before this project was finished, enquiries were received to upgrade the existing Jubilee hospital, and to supply hospital buildings in sub-Saharan Africa.

Project name: Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto

The Gauteng Department of Infrastructural Development issued a project to add 500 ICU beds to Baragwanath Hospital to supply additional ICU capacity for Covid-19 patients, and thereafter to serve as a permanent extension of the hospital.

The floor area of the 20-ward expansion is 23000 m2 which includes passageways and ancillary buildings. Approximately 470 tons of LSF (20kg / m2) was supplied for the single storey extension with roof trusses spanning 27m between external walls.

Trumod was appointed as a subcontractor to Bambanani Construction, who in turn were contracted to Enza Construction for the building of the 500-bed ICU facility at Baragwanath Hospital.

Rolling and assembly of the LSF wall panels and roof strusses by Trumod started on 7 August 2020, and was essentially completed by mid-October 2020, on time, eight weeks from start – which meant delivery of LSF for 2 000m2 of floor area per week.

Trumod rolled the LSF, and assembled wall panels and trusses at their factory in Springs before delivery to site. Most of the internal walls consist of standard drywall construction, ie 63mm wide non-loadbearing drywall studs, clad with gypsum board. Trumod also supplied the profiled roof sheet for the entire project.

The Baragwanath project has been a great example of all the benefits that LSF has to offer – speed of construction, off-site fabrication which reduced the number of workers on site, accuracy, good insulation and neat finishes. Whilst the start of the project was delayed due to architectural and engineering issues, once the green light was given, Trumod managed to claw back on lost time and the project is shortly due for completion.

info@sasfa.co.za

 

 

Covid-19: Construction Sectoral Guidelines published

by Kate Collier, a Partner & Shane Johnson, Professional Support Lawyer at Webber Wentzel

At various stages during the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa, various studies were released on the negative impact that Covid-19 will have on the construction sector. Some studies predicted that the sector could experience a total of 140,000 job losses. With alert level 1 now in effect,​the construction sector can breathe a sigh of relief with prospects for increased activity.

All players within the construction sector will need to ensure compliance with the Construction Sectoral Guidelines (Guidelines) that were recently published by the Chief Inspector of the Department of Employment & Labour (DEL). Although the Guidelines have not been published in the government gazette, the Guidelines have been published on the DEL website as a final version. We anticipate that the Guidelines will be published in the Government Gazette shortly.

The Guidelines aim to assist the construction sector in applying the Covid-19 Direction on Health & Safety in the Workplace. Clients, designers and principal contractors have specific roles to play in applying the Guidelines.

It is important for employers to note that the Construction Regulations 2014 (CR) under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (OHSA) remain applicable and must be complied with by employers.

The Guidelines provide that the client’s team and principal contractor should work together to identify ways in which Covid-19 risks can be mitigated. The HIRA [under CR 5(1)(a)] needs to be updated for the project at a high level to identify levels of risk that would expose employees and other project staff to Covid-19. The aspects of the HIRA need to incorporate the risk categories as identified by the Hazardous Biological Agent Regulations 2001.

We highlight the key provisions of the Guidelines below.

Workplace risk assessment

Employers must conduct a workplace risk assessment and identify –

  • High risk exposure work processes which should be divided into four risk exposure categories –
Very high exposure risk

Example: Healthcare workers at the site of the project

  High exposure risk

Example: Employees stationed at entry points to the workplace

  Medium exposure risk

Example: Workers who may have frequent contact with workers who may return from other provinces

  Low exposure risk

Example: Remote workers or office workers

  • ​High risk work practices which include labour intensive activities, confined working spaces, toolbox talks and workshops.

Site access points

Contractors must ensure that they follow strict protocols at site access points including –

  • maintaining strict visitor access control;
  • requiring all individuals on site to wash their hands on site and thereafter apply hand sanitiser before entering the site; and
  • enforcing staggered start and end times.

Engineering controls and administrative controls

The contractor must ensure that the certain engineering controls are in place –

  • proper ventilation: workplaces must be well ventilated by natural or mechanical means;
  • physical barriers: if workstations cannot be spaced at least 1.5 metres apart, physical barriers should be placed between workers; and
  • adaptation of workstations to increase social distancing.

The contractor must also ensure that certain administrative controls are in place –

  • screening, reporting of symptoms and implementing sick leave;
  • minimising contact;
  • rotation and shift work;
  • work from home strategies;
  • communication and information strategies;
  • role of health and safety committees and representatives;
  • education and training;
  • reporting of incidents, contact tracing, screening, testing and surveillance;
  • management of Covid-19 positive employees and workplace contacts; and
  • management of vulnerable employees and special measures for their protection.

Healthy and safe work practices

Employers must ensure that they make use of disinfectants and sanitisers and encourage personal hygiene in the workplace and on site. This includes the obligation to ensure that –

  • workers are required to wash their hands and sanitise their hands regularly while at work;
  • there are adequate rubbish bins with lids for disposal of paper towels;
  • workers sign  tools in and out and disinfect tools; and
  • workers to be provided with necessary tools and equipment to prevent sharing of tools and equipment insofar as reasonable and practical.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The type of PPE required will vary according to the work activity and medical risk factors. The principle contractor must ensure that workers who work in close contact with one another wear the appropriate PPE and workers must be trained on how to wear, remove and dispose of PPE. The principle contractor should also provide designated bins for the disposal of PPE.

The main types of PPE that should be considered are –

  • masks and respirators;
  • gloves; and
  • face shields.

Safe transport for employees

The contractor should train workers who rely on public transport or who use employer-provided transport on the relevant safety protocols that they should follow. This includes information on social distancing and wearing of masks.

Contractors should, as far as possible, ensure that safe transport arrangements are made which includes –

  • sanitisers for work;
  • masks and respirators for taxi drivers; and
  • social distancing and capacity arrangements.

Extracts From “Management Of Persons Under Investigation (PUIs) For Covid 19: Experiences In The Construction Industry”

By Gerhard Roets, Construction Health & Safety Manager, Master Builders Association North

Identify Covid-19 suspects: access control on construction sites

Screening will be conducted on all employees, visitors and contractors requiring entry to the workplace. Before entering the work premises, employees should be alerted that if they are coughing, have a fever or flu-like symptoms, they should please not enter the workplace.

Temperature screening

Screening will be controlled by security personnel who are properly trained in doing the screening procedure. All security personnel who will be involved in the screening of employees, also require screening before the start of their shift. A temperature check will be conducted on all employees entering the workplace.

A daily symptoms questionnaire will be completed by each person entering the site. If a screening question is answered yes, or if their temperature is abnormal, access to the workplace should be denied and the person should be managed.

Managing of Covid-19 suspects

The employee should be refused entry into the place of work. A referral slip will be given and the employee will be asked to consult with their own health care provider. The name, surname, contact details of the employee and the contact details of a next of kin should be obtained and recorded in the referral record, prior to the employee leaving the premises.

The responsible manager should be immediately informed, and a mask should be provided to any symptomatic person before they are referred to their own health care provider. An employee will not be allowed back onto site until a medical evaluation of fitness is issued by an OMP or doctor.

Employee confirmed to be Covid-19 positive

Following the identification of a sick employee while on site, all potentially contaminated surfaces (where the Covid-19 positive person worked) should be cleaned with a 70% alcohol-based cleaning liquid, eg floors, walls, contact surfaces and large equipment.

Sanitise contaminated instruments as per usual protocols – cleaners need to wear protective PPE and wash their hands after handling any potentially infected material. All cases are to be reported to the NICD (National institute of Communicable Diseases SA), Department of Employment and Labour and DOH (Department of Health).

The employee will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. It is essential that the responsible manager maintains regular contact with all employees in quarantine or isolation.

Challenges faced by the construction industry

These include delayed entry onto site and the honesty of employees, visitors and contractors when completing the daily symptoms questionnaire. Additional resources to manage Covid-19 include appointing compliance officers; PPE; paperwork and filing monitoring; costing; and training and inductions.

Best practice recommendations

Indicate to all employees that the company has their best health interest at heart. Internal company policies, procedures and declarations must adhere to Covid19 sick leave and disciplinary policies. Regular online meetings should be held to discuss the latest legislation, challenges and recommendations (PC to liaise with construction managers and H&S officers). Adhere to the basic Covid-19 preventative protocols and provide awareness training.

South Africa moves to Lockdown Level 2

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on 15 August 2020 that the whole of South Africa will move to Alert Level
2 as of midnight on 17 August 2020.
Nearly all of the restrictions on the resumption of economic activity across most industries can now be removed.
The restrictions that are being lifted are as follows:
 All restrictions on inter-provincial travel.
 Accommodation, hospitality venues and tours will be permitted according to approved protocols to ensure
social distancing.
 Restaurants, bars and taverns will be permitted to operate according to approved protocols as to times of
operation and numbers of people.
 Restrictions on the sale of tobacco.
 The suspension of the sale of alcohol will be lifted subject to certain restrictions.
o Alcohol will be permitted for on-site consumption in licensed establishments only up until 10pm.
o Liquor outlets will be allowed to sell alcohol for off-site consumption from Monday to Thursday
during the hours of 9am to 5pm only.
 Restrictions on family and social visits will also be lifted, although everyone is urged to exercise extreme
caution and undertake such visits only if necessary.
The restrictions that are still in place are as follows:
 Current restrictions on international travel remain in place.
 No gatherings of more than 50 people will be permitted.
 Spectators aren’t permitted at sporting events.
 The curfew remains in place between 10pm and 4am.

All indications are that South Africa has reached the peak and moved beyond the infection point of the curve,
with the number of new confirmed cases dropping over the last three weeks from a peak of over 12 000 a day
to an average over the past week of around 5 000 a day.
Members are cautioned to still comply strictly with all the Health and Safety Protocols for the Covid 19 pandemic
even though most of the restrictions have been lifted. The fact that the restrictions have been lifted does not
imply that the threat is gone. The virus will be in our midst for a very long time still to come.
The fact that most of the restrictions have been lifted means that more employees will return to work which will
mean that more employees will make use of public transport thereby increasing more people to being exposed
to the virus.
If people start to ignore the necessary safety measures to protect themselves and others, it is very possible that
a second wave of Covid-19 could evolve in South Africa, which could see a return to higher lockdown levels.

MBA Bulletin East Cape : 18 August 2020

Perhaps a little time for reflection as we move to Lockdown Level 2.
When lockdown started it was March, and summer and I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect. It’s been almost 5 months of new challenges and although some folk are referring to the “new normal”, nothing has been normal about it at all.
We have all faced our own unique challenges during this time and it’s been tough & stressful navigating through unfamiliar terrain, but we have reached level 2 and I think it deserves a resounding WELL DONE!
The Level 2 regulations have been published and we will continue to keep you updated on any relevant aspects.

We have also published a brief summary of the changes to the regulations which you can find on our COVID-19 Feature page on the MBA Website.

WC construction industry to prepare for COVID-19 peak

Latest epidemiological models have revealed that the COVID-19 infection peak in the Western Cape will take place from late July through early August. This is both longer and flatter than anticipated, said Premier Alan Winde. Although this will assist with the capacity of the healthcare system, it means that the worst of the pandemic is still to come. “You have the power to change this curve again,” he said, explaining that by wearing a mask, keeping a distance, and good hygiene, we could flatten the curve further.

With the economy opening up significantly, and more people going to work, including the construction sector, it is now more important than ever that the industry follows strict health and safety guidelines to prevent infections.

Although the construction sector has been a leader in formulating and implementing measures around COVID-19, it is vital that companies prepare to continue to comply with health and safety procedures to weather the storm, says Deon Bester, OHS Manager at the Master Builders Association Western Cape (MBAWC).

He points out that, in 2019, the construction industry contributed approximately R32 billion to the Western Cape’s total gross value, and in order to boost economic growth and protect jobs, it is vital to continue to attract fixed capital investment – which the country so desperately needs.

In order to assist construction companies, Bester has compiled a list of pointers to mitigate the risks on-site as far as possible:

Risk assessment and compliance

It is essential that contractors carry out a risk assessment on-site. He advises that companies assign an employee with the task of being a dedicated COVID-19 protocol monitor to ensure continuous compliance, particularly relating to access control, eating areas and toilet/washing facilities.

This also applies to subcontractors, who need to make sure their employees know the compliance protocols and are screened before going to a site.

Transport of workers

Employer-provided transport must be well-ventilated and have space to sit well apart. Masks should be worn in both employer and public transport and employees should ensure that their hands are sanitised before getting into a vehicle and then again after getting out.

Access to site

Ideally, there should be only one access point to a site, and everyone entering must be screened and socially distanced whilst they wait to enter. There should also be a separate exit point from the site to prevent crowding.

Drivers and assistants in delivery vehicles must be screened and sanitised as well, and drivers should stay in their vehicles where possible.

Working on-site

Social distancing is not always possible during all construction tasks, so all workers must wear masks at all times. Handwashing stations should be available in strategic areas. All commonly used tools must be sanitised before and after use.

All workers must receive all PPE (personal protective equipment) free of charge, including two reusable cloth masks. They must be trained in how to use them properly. Workers doing hard physical labour can use a clear face shield instead of a mask.

A big challenge faced by the country is the lack of understanding of how serious this pandemic actually is. Many South Africans do not practice social distancing, wear masks or wash their hands properly. Contractors also have no control over their workers once they leave the site when they are on public transport or while they are at home. “We must convince people to practice the same work-level protocols when they are not at work,” Bester said. “We have to educate, educate and then educate some more.”