While plumbers are responsible for the installation, repair and maintaining of pipes, fixtures and other plumbing works for water distribution and wastewater disposal in various buildings, their role in the construction sector is ultimately very important “because plumbing protects the safety of people.”
Plumbing done right
According to Herman Strauss from the Plumbing Industry Registration Board (PIRB), plumbing is more than a convenience. “We know that not having water, or having blocked drains are a nuisance, but it is about much more than that,” he said. “Disease can spread through drainage pipework and affect communities.”
There has even been reports that the world’s latest health pandemic, the coronavirus (Covid-19) can spread this way.
“On the supply side, hot water is critically needed but if plumbing is not done right, geysers can explode and cause death and structural damage. If the water is not hot enough lethal bacteria like Legionella can spread causing the lethal Legionnaires’ disease. On the other hand, if the water at the tap is too hot it can cause potentially life-threatening scalding in seconds.”
Therefore, it is said that if plumbing is done right, it improves health and safety and make our lives better, while plumbing that’s been done wrong can have lethal implications on a large scale.
About the PIRB CoC
As the professional body for plumbers in South Africa, the PIRB is responsible for managing the CoC system. It is a legal requirement for a PIRB CoC to be issued when plumbing work is done on a geyser, a solar water heater or a heat pump. These certificates are ultimately issued by licensed plumbers to certify that their plumbing work complies with all regulatory installation requirements.
“We are fortunate that South Africa has very good plumbing standards that ensure the safety of the plumbing installations, Strauss explains. “This is provided that the above-mentioned standards are complied with.”
Strauss also says that to promote the level of such professional services, the South African Government is increasingly relying on professional bodies for the different industries to monitor the level of work done by its members.
“In the plumbing industry, CoCs are used by the PIRB to monitor plumbing work and to improve compliance to the legislative standards. When a plumber issues a CoC it is his legal self-declaration that the work is safe and complies with all requirements. Permanent records are held by the PIRB of all CoCs issued. The PIRB goes further to proactively audits a percentage of the CoCs issued.”
About the PIRB audits process
These audits were implemented because if the policing of standards and laws are left unchecked, it becomes meaningless. The PIRB appointed the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA) to perform these audits on behalf of the PIRB.
Carrying out a physical inspection or audit ensures that plumbing regulations, standards and laws are upheld which creates fair, accountable and an equitable environment for all to operate in. That’s why 5% of CoCs are audited.
“If errors are identified, the plumber is compelled to return to site to fix it. In cases where the plumber was not up to date with the latest safety requirements, this helps to upskill the plumber so that future installations will be safe. In some cases, where plumbers were negligent, it allows for a disciplinary process to be followed against such plumbers.”
These audits ultimately create a reassurance that the CoC is not just a piece of paper. Therefore, it is clear exactly how the plumbing CoC and audit process play an integral part in the construction sector.
The devastating drought in many parts of South Africa has increased awareness about the need for effective water storage, particularly in rural areas. “It is therefore important that more rural local authorities realise that even relatively small concrete water reservoirs, strategically placed, can play a vital role in sustaining struggling rural communities,” says Bryan Perrie, MD of The Concrete Institute.
Perrie says the local authorities should follow the example of hundreds of South African farmers and smallholding owners who have for three decades referred to Farm Reservoirs, the Concrete Institute’s most popular and durable publication, to build reservoirs on their properties. “The Concrete Institute would be prepared to provide supplementary advice to any local authority planning to build farm reservoirs to serve people living in isolated areas without, with limited, or drought-disrupted municipal services,” he adds.
First published in 1984 and revised nine years ago, Farm Reservoirs is a manual dealing with the use of concrete for water retaining structures for irrigation, watering stock, farm reservoirs, swimming pools, and household use.
The 52-page, A4 publication deals with the construction of circular reservoirs with reinforced concrete walls, as well as those with walls of fired clay bricks, concrete masonry, and corrugated galvanised steel. Guidelines for reservoirs built with travelling moulds are included. Rectangular reservoirs and swimming pools, elliptical swimming pools, and drinking troughs are the topics of other chapters; while data for estimating the quantities of materials required is also provided.
“The manual has enabled owners of farm reservoirs to build a structure that will be serviceable for many years with the ability of retaining considerable water pressures when full. Concrete farm reservoirs are also a familiar sight in most of South Africa’s major national parks, and sustain wildlife in these game reserves during the frequent droughts that strike many of these sanctuaries,” Perrie concludes.
Motheo Construction Group, a leading predominantly black-owned Level 1 B-BBEE construction company, announced its new shareholding structure on 14 April 2020.
Post the tragic passing of Dr Thandi Ndlovu, an icon in South Africa’s struggle movement and construction industry, and in line with her vision and heart for Motheo Construction Group, the Motheo family announces eight new shareholders to the Motheo fold. After much consideration and thought, current CEO, Lettie Mashau, announced the inclusion of the new shareholders:
“With its strong mentorship culture, Motheo has always had the vision to grow from within. In line with Dr Ndolovu and the other founders’ vision, the task in restructuring our shareholding held two key guiding principles in mind:
- Maintain an owner-managed business.
- Empower from within.
“Motheo is a family and as such have chosen to keep the Motheo culture and family strong, vibrant and thriving. To this end we selected our new shareholders from within Team Motheo itself. Key longstanding and up-and-coming staff were earmarked and given the option to buy into Motheo. Current shareholders, in line with position and authority, were offered additional shares.
“Our new shareholders include two black females (bringing the total to seven) and six black males. Motheo now has 13 black shareholders holding 51,5% of the Motheo shares; 35% being black female and 16,5% black male. The overwhelming response from all those included in this grouping was ‘yes’.
“For Motheo this recent restructuring is just the start. We hope to share more news in the not-too-distant future. Motheo’s flag continues to fly high. From a solid foundation we look to continue the climb, making our founders proud. Our legacy calls for the new generation of the Motheo family to flourish and in their honour, we aim to do just that. Over the past three years Motheo has seen a 32% year-on-year growth.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa and the South African government are to be commended for their balanced response to the COVID-19 global crisis – a challenge some world leaders have inadequately handled.
The social relief and economic support package announced by the President last night are signs of responsible and good leadership in the new world order we inhabit: a people-centred world and global economy.
As a business, Grinaker-LTA welcomes the President’s emphasised commitment to the implementation of a “substantial infrastructure build programme” to help the South African economy recover from COVID-19. This is a much-needed confidence boost for the construction sector, which is a key sector for the economy.
Grinaker-LTA is eagerly awaiting the easing and lifting of the lockdown so we can resume projects we had to halt.
We however welcome and appreciate the importance of measures to re-open the sector in a responsible manner, as we have to balance the priority of our continued financial sustainability with preventing further loss of lives.
The implementation of the lockdown was obviously less than ideal though necessary. Grinaker-LTA, however, is raring to go as soon as it is lifted.
What impact is the crisis having on the cement industry as a whole?
Our focus has continued to demonstrate sustainable value for all out stakeholders. For this reason, we are not able to provide a detailed review of the impact of Covid-19 on the business. This is because the business and all our employees across the continent have continued to find new and exciting ways to empower communities to experience a better quality of life. Our customer- focused approach to our operations has ensured we go beyond in our provision of quality materials and solutions. A few operations are supplying to customers that produce essential products as classified by the Lockdown Regulations issued by the governments across our operations. These, for example, include the supply of lime to the water treatment facilities to enable the provision of water services, the agricultural sector and food production facilities, the power and petrochemical production plants.
What specific business continuity solutions is PPC implementing at this time?
Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to empower our employees to experience a better quality of life. Working with our partners, we are implementing the recommendations of the WHO guidelines and the Government directive, implementing necessary procedures to assist with us in this fight. Our priority remains prevention, with a focus on personal hygiene and travel. As such, we are requesting self-declaration from all our respective stakeholders, customers, partners and employees in respect of the following:
- The protocols that the company or service provider has in place to detect potential infections to minimise the spread of such infections;
- Declaration of any employee/s who have travelled abroad in the last four weeks, who are working in our operations and central services areas;
- If an employee has travelled abroad, specifically to Covid-19 hot zones that the employee not be allowed to access our operations for 21 days;
- If the services can be provided remotely, such options should be taken;
- Employee awareness and educational programmes and how these could assist our response plans.
What best practice solutions do you have for construction businesses and the industry as a whole at this time?
Focus on your employees as they remain key in our efforts to drive business continuity. Be sure to engage your stakeholders and managers in the process too as you work to keep your teams engaged. Ensure the teams have a platform for communication as you create opportunities for the business to operate in line with Covid-19 regulations. PPC has established a sanitary baseline across its operations to ensure hygiene standards are adhered to. Individuals who visit our premises are required to be wearing the relevant Covid-19 PPE in addition to complying with PPC Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) conditions.
Anything else you want to share?
During these uncertain times, PPC Limited remains committed to empowering communities to experience a better quality of life; we have therefore taken all the preventative measures to safeguard the health and wellness of all our stakeholders. We thank all our employees and partners for remaining truthful and committed to ensuring that we provide a safe and supportive environment – as we probe new ways to continue operations through the COVID-19 pandemic period and beyond.
The Covid-19 virus has a fragile outer membrane: it is less stable in the environment and can be killed by simple disinfectants. Survival time in the environment depends on
- Inoculum size (required concentration of expected microorganism for a standard test)
- Exposure to disinfectants (common disinfectants such as 70% ethanol and bleach can kill the virus)
- Type of surface
- Anticipated number of staff
- Opening up of services (employee-public shared spaces)
- Risk assessment (potential risk of transmission)
These include operations, activities and shared spaces (among employees and employees / public). Workplace changes include considerations such as
- Engineering controls (strategies designed to protect workers from hazardous conditions by placing a barrier between the worker and the hazard)
- Admin controls (training, procedure, policy, or shift designs that lessen the threat of a hazard to an individual)
- Substitution (removing the hazard from the workplace)
- PPE (personal protective equipment)
- Observe social distancing
- More office space ̶ working offsite
- Workplace facilities
- Access control-staff, visitors, dedicated streamlined / controlled access
Non-Medical Management Preparations
- Debriefing staff about new changes
- Psychosocial support
- New work organisation
- Access control
- Spatial arrangements
- Review cleaning and disinfection procedures
Training and Awareness
- Sensitise skeleton staff
- Communicate with staff at home
- Key operational people (HR / access control personnel)
- Procedures to be followed
- Procedure review
- Confidentiality vs public health outbreak
- Minimise risks of transmission in the workplace. HRA (health reimbursement arrangement) including controls (Engineering, Administrative and PPE)
- Business continuity and pandemic preparedness policies
- Education and training / risk communication
- Minimise risks of transmission in the workplace
- Screening and identification of potentially affected employees, limit contact and movement
- Social distancing
- Promote regular and thorough handwashing by employees, contractors and customers
- Respiratory hygiene
- Avoid touching your face, especially while working
- Encourage / insist that symptomatic persons stay away / self-isolate
Workplace Practices to Review
- Mass gathering (water/coffee stations, common areas)
- Waiting areas ̶ clinic, medicals, etc.
- Meetings (forums)
- Specific procedures: spirometry (measuring lung function) ̶ consider method and assess risk, breathalysers (safety risk), etc.
- Access control methods (biometrics, signing-in with common material such as pens)
- Public spaces and workers
- Workplace cleaning and disinfection protocols
- Medical fitness issues and returning to work
- Mental health issues
- Impairment assessment / compensation
- Work restrictions
Some initial research from Arndt et al 2020 shows construction as one of the worst affected industries in SA regarding the impact of Covid-19 (GDP at factor cost). At the time of this presentation (19 May 2020 – Level 4) there is inhibitory red tape around going back to work for contractors. There is no standard set of rules; each health and safety officer has a different viewpoint about what is applicable.
Contractors are struggling to get permits, and it is costly and time-consuming to sanitise each work site; PPE and cleaning is expensive. Projects are postponed and the construction industry is operating at 10% to 15% capacity: there is a need to speed things up. There has been no subsequent infrastructure build programme information following the mention of it in President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address.
Forecast scenarios take into account the assumption that Covid-19 peaks in September 2020, that there is no major resurgence later on, and depend when parts of the industry go back, and at what capacity. Other factors include a major government infrastructure spend slump coupled with extra spend on stimulus measures, with a decrease in tax revenue and lack of demand from the private sector.
Baseline scenario 1 (most likely) – 60% probability
50% capacity until the end of June; 70% capacity until end of October; 100% capacity thereafter. The construction industry contracts by 28,2%.
Scenario 2 (more positive) – 30% probability
80% capacity until end of September; 100% capacity thereafter. The construction industry contracts by 14,5% in 2020. More positive longer run trajectory – maybe we do actually see some stimulus. This is becoming more likely as calls for end to lockdown intensify.
Scenario 3 (more negative) – 55% probability
50% capacity until September; 70% capacity until end of the year; 100% capacity thereafter. The construction industry contracts by 34,3% in 2020. More negative longer run trajectory.
Building (contracted by 28,2% in 2020) vs civil (contracted by 19,0% in 2020) construction have different dynamics and civil construction is dependent on government spend; government can play a counter-cyclical role. We were seeing promising signs of early recovery, pre-Covid-19, at the end of 2019: big road and water projects were coming out to tender. Contractors were becoming more positive around tender activity.
Convergence between civil and building confidence
While civil confidence has been at an all-time low, there has been some recovery in the last two quarters. The opposite has happened to building confidence. Civil engineering confidence bounced back in the first quarter of 2020, more confident about the state of the civil sector: from -100 in the last few quarters to -65 in 2020 Q1.
We did see a cut to the infrastructure budget at the beginning of the year which talks to the counter-cyclical role of government, but the money is mostly still there. R130 billion of the R500 billion stimulus is going to be reprioritised from somewhere. Transport and water infrastructure spend is still expected to grow at above inflation rates after the cuts. Public sector construction was the first to go back and have at least month’s head start on building, but could be subject to more red tape / bureaucracy?
However, there remains massive pressure on the fiscus in the medium to long term, with the ratings downgrade, paying back the stimulus loans and the massive slump in tax revenue. The budget deficit is expected to breach 16,5% (from 6,3% last year) and 9,0% is expected. This means less funds are available for infrastructure, significantly dampening the longer-term forecast.
This is private sector-driven and is expected to be hit much harder than civils, affected by a huge demand shock; South Africans are under massive financial pressure. There is no counter-cyclical role here.
South Africans are going to get considerably poorer, with households in the top half of income distribution to see a 25% drop in their incomes. Poorer households already receive most of their income from grants.
Pre-Covid-19, the building industry was already entering a recession. The lowest square metre (SQM) approved over a 12-month period since the mid-1990s was at the end of February 2020. Before Covid-19, 13,46 million SQM was approved until February 2020 and 13,49 million was approved at the worst point after the financial crisis in 2008/09.
The residential market will take in excess of 3,5 years to recover (John Loos) and rental deflation this year and next of -3% to -4% is expected. There is indication of a slump in share prices of listed property.
The conundrum is that of end-May, commercial property construction is only expected to go back to work at Level 3, but most activity is in the metropolitan areas which may remain at Level 4 indefinitely.
The demise of the office
Covid-19 is said to hasten the end of the formal office as demand for office space is expected to drop even further in the longer run. The pandemic has provided an opportunity for business to experiment with having their staff work from home, and many people are realising that an office might not be as necessary as before.
Industrial and warehousing is expected to be the worst affected by some because of close links to the manufacturing industry, which can often be seen as the best proxy for GDP growth (or lack thereof in this instance). Online sales in SA are growing during the pandemic but may still be too small to counterbalance.
Shopping centres: many tenants can’t pay rent, and have asked for leniency from landlords. With weaker economic fundamentals going forward, demand for goods and services that malls provide will fall significantly.
It is vital that the entire construction industry be allowed to return to work as soon as possible. If this does not happen, the Western Cape stands to lose over 110 000 jobs and R14.9bn in wages this year.
This is according to a recent submission to Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma from Minister David Maynier, in which he requests that under Alert Level 4 restrictions, construction be allowed to expand operations beyond public sector engineering and construction, to include commercial, industrial and private residential construction.
Allen Bodill, Executive Director of the Master Builders’ Association Western Cape (MBAWC) welcomes and commends this submission, especially given that the industry body has lobbied the Western Cape Government on behalf of their membership to urgently recommence work on all projects that were active at the time of the lockdown, irrespective of the nature of the work.
Urgent call for reopening
The MBAWC is cautiously confident that the industry is prepared to return to work safely and maintains that the longer the industry remains dormant, the greater the financial losses will be for companies to bear. These losses threaten the continued employment of thousands of workers in the industry in the Cape Peninsula.
“We have fielded innumerable desperate calls from industry workers, who have described their circumstances of real hardship, in not being able to purchase electricity or food,” says Bodill.
The performance of the UIF/TERS scheme has further exacerbated the plight of the construction staff. MBAWC recently conducted a poll amongst its members who have submitted claims to the UIF/TERS fund to cover the period of the lockdown up to the end of April. As at 20th May only 12.7% of them had been paid, 18% partially paid and 64.8% had not been paid anything at all.
“We have been working with the Building Industry Bargaining Council (BIBC) to identify the issues that members are challenged with, in the hope of finding solutions, but the situation has led to enormous anger and frustration,” Bodill adds.
The reactivation of active construction projects is imperative
Millions of Rands have already been invested in projects that were in progress at the commencement of the lockdown and their current stalled status impacts the entire supply chain, from developers to contractors to subcontractors and also suppliers.
The lives of many South African homeowners have also been impacted. “As residential alteration and renovation construction projects were also stalled, there are currently many people that are “camping” in partially completed homes with unfinished kitchens, bathrooms and open roofs,” says Bodill. “With the winter weather approaching, we have received many desperate appeals from homeowners, for contractors to be allowed to urgently return to sites to secure and complete these residential projects.”
According to Bodill, there has been encouraging and positive cooperation between the Employee Representatives in the Trade Unions, the Employer Bodies and the Bargaining Council, with regards to measures to allow employers and their workers claw back lost time and income. These measures will be implemented as soon as the contractors are permitted to resume work.
Health and Safety is key for construction
As viewed from an Occupational Health and Safety perspective, the construction sector is well-prepared to return to work. We are used to operating under strict health and safety protocols, says Bodill.
“The construction industry has for many years been subject to a highly regulated Health and Safety working environment. Contractors already have well-developed resources in place to comply with legislation requiring site-specific safety plans. These include the provision of appropriate PPE and the regular monitoring of the health and safety of the workforce.
“Whilst the additional COVID-19 specific precautions will undoubtedly add cost and responsibilities to contractors, their experience with regard to well-practiced site health and safety protocols will stand them in good stead in implementing and managing these additional responsibilities.”
Along with this vitally important experience in maintaining site safety and health, and given that some of the construction sites are outdoors or in open areas, many of the workers are likely to be less exposed to the risk of infections on those sites, compared to visiting crowded shopping malls or using public transport, Bodill explained.
Fast-tracking projects to boost the sector and the economy
The MBAWC further calls on National and Provincial authorities to fast-track the processing and approval of infrastructure projects currently in the pipeline, as this would boost jobs, not only in the industry, but throughout the wider supply chain.
“Historically, infrastructure projects have been proven to boost economic recovery and create jobs during financial crises,” Bodill said. “Just think of the New Deal in the USA after the Great Depression.”
In closing he says: “We unequivocally support the State’s efforts to save lives, but the way the regulations are being implemented across the risk-adjusted levels is not logical. There is no difference between a contractor working on a public works site and one working on a commercial project or residential home. The transport challenges, the sourcing and supply of materials and many of the individual work-related tasks are much the same.”
“As such, we implore the National Government to allow the construction sector as a whole to return to work immediately, in order to save the industry and more than 100 000 local jobs that depend on it,” concludes Bodill.