Responding To The Covid-19 Challenge
To Build|Volume 10 / Issue 2 July - October 2020
Historically, the South African construction industry has focused on the ‘safety’ component of health and safety (H&S) as opposed to the ‘health’ component, despite the ‘health’ issues being more pronounced and more serious in nature, depending on the occupational disease (OD).
John Smallwood

ODs include, among other, occupational asthma, bronchitis, and pneumoconiosis such as asbestosis and silicosis. Such ODs constitute ‘underlying diseases’, and as with primary health (PH) issues such as addiction, AIDS, respiratory diseases or disorders such as asthma, cancer, influenza (seasonal), pneumonia, tuberculosis, and smoking and drug or other substance abuse, marginalise the human body’s immune system in terms of fighting COVID-19.

Therefore, the built environment needs to approach the managing of COVID-19, a primary health issue, in a holistic manner, which includes emphasis on occupational health (OH) and primary health promotion (PHP) in the workplace. To date, the societal approach has included sanitising and washing hands, social distancing, temperature monitoring, testing, wearing gloves, and more recently, wearing masks.

The pending re-commencement of construction post ‘phase 1’ of COVID-19 amplifies the role of all built environment stakeholders with respect to H&S, and ‘managing’ COVID-19 will require additional considerations and additional financing of COVID-19 specific interventions. These obviously have contractual ‘financial’ and ‘programme’ implications. However, the collective challenge is two-fold, namely current and future projects. In the case of current projects, the contract documentation, including cost and time parameters will have to be reviewed, in addition to client baseline risk assessments (BRAs), ‘designer’ and ‘contractor’ H&S specifications, design hazard identification and risk assessment (HIRA), ‘designer’ reports, construction HIRA, H&S plans, method statements, safe work procedures (SWPs), and safe operating procedures (SOPs).

Historical challenges to the fore

The advent of COVID-19 has highlighted three historical industry challenges in the form of transportation of workers which has not reflected compliance, which in turn, has resulted in a high level of motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) in the course of employment.

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