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Construction sites could operate from dawn to midnight under new Covid-19 regime

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(Andrew Milligan/PA)

(Andrew Milligan/PA)

(Andrew Milligan/PA)

Construction firms that want to resume work while keeping workers safe from Covid-19 may need to stagger shifts from 7am to midnight under guidelines published today.

A Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) report details a raft of new practices for managing Covid-19 risks on sites. It says construction firms must alter core practices to ensure worker safety.

The Government last month ordered construction work to halt on any sites not delivering repairs and infrastructure critical to virus-fighting efforts. The Housing Agency this week said limited work on a few nearly finished social housing units could resume, but scores of other sites remain shuttered.

The RIAI said construction firms would need to supply many of its workers ‘hazmat’ suits and social distancing protocols; use more prefabricated materials assembled off site; and stagger shifts from 7am to midnight with breaks for key work areas to be sterilised.

The umbrella body for Ireland’s architects said its proposals should be enforced by inspections from the Health and Safety Authority - and any site found to be flouting the guidelines should be shut down.

“For every construction contract there will be different levels of risk and it will be critical to evaluate the specific risks of each individual project,” said David Browne, director of the architecture firm RKD, who co-authored the guidelines. “This publication outlines measures that construction companies need to take to protect against these risks to ensure worker safety.”

The RIAI report details several ways that firms will need to ensure that workers keep at least 2 meters apart and limit closer proximity to colleagues to less than 15 minutes a day.

“Measures should include wider or single-direction site walkways, stop-go systems for all stairways, bans on queuing at lifts, and appropriate social distancing in canteens,” the report said.

It suggested that firms may run morning shifts from 7am to 3pm, followed by an hour of workplace sterilisation, then a night shift running from 4pm to midnight. It noted that local authorities’ restrictions on early morning and late-night construction work would need to be suspended.

The report said sites’ common use of ‘buddy systems’ in which construction workers work in small, flexible teams would need to be restricted.

If workers could not do tasks on their own, it said ‘buddy systems’ should be modified into “a permanent team” of two colleagues maximum “observing specific protocols”.

It called for firms to source disposable hazardous materials suits - also known as decontamination suits - that include hoods and elasticated wrists and ankles, gloves and ankle straps. They “should be disposed of after every use, which means after every meal break in canteen and after every shift”, the RIAI said.

It recommends that firms should source these suits, available for €3 to €5 each, using supply channels that don’t conflict with the orders of HSE and other medical staff.

The Construction Industry Federation, which published its own proposals last week on managing Covid-19 risks on site, declined to comment on the RIAI recommendations.

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