Can Covid-19 Timing Risks Be Designed-Out of Construction Projects?

TV News footage at the start of the Covid-19 crisis showed just how challenging it is to maintain safe social distancing on traditional construction sites. We face the possibility of future waves of infection, localised lockdowns, or colleagues having to isolate after being notified by a contact tracer. These all add additional elements of timing risk to what are already the most risk-prone phases of the project.

The Covid-19 risk profile varies over different project phases. Some, such as demolition, excavation and groundworks are thought to carry a relatively small risk, as work is carried out in the open air and there is a low density of personnel on site. In these circumstances, it is straightforward to enforce social distancing.

Other phases, such as creating the structure and fit-out, are harder to manage. Work spaces are often enclosed and it’s hard to maintain social distancing owing to the number of people involved. These phases are already most prone to delays owing to poor weather or shortages of labour or materials.

Restrictions on the number of people who can work onsite simultaneously are likely to be a feature of construction works in the UK for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to see how traditional builds can proceed to completion at the rate they did previously.

Fewer People Onsite Means Less Risk

A Covid-secure working environment in construction is largely about minimising the number of people who need to be in the same place at the same time. This is easier to ensure when you use a panelised offsite method.

First, there are fewer operatives needed onsite. Panel assembly is carried out by a small team of well-trained personnel. And the panels are up to 6m long, which means that two operatives are highly unlikely to ever be working in close proximity to each other.

Second, there is less fitting-out needed as the routing for services is designed into the relevant panels. The thermal and acoustic insulation is integrated into the panels, which eliminates the need for further treatments to be applied onsite. Fit-out is simpler and can be scheduled with greater precision to minimise the number of people needed onsite at one time.

The future progress of Covid-19 infections is hard to predict – even for professional epidemiologists. This brings significant uncertainty to construction projects. Specifying panelised offsite is an effective way to reduce that uncertainty and risk. For more information click here.