To help construction sites make up for the reduced time and resources in the wake of the shutdown, the government is permitting extended working hours on some projects. Will these measures help clear the backlog of work and increase productivity? Or do they represent a fresh health and safety obstacle?
A balancing act. The power to grant extensions to hours sits at the discretion of local authorities. This means that successful applications are far from a given; contractors must argue their case.
“I think local authorities will be trying to balance sets of competing interests,” says Peter Geraghty, chair of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT). ADEPT represents many of the local authorities across the UK tasked with negotiating extended hours with contractors. The issue really is around supporting activity that will impact upon people that are living at home and the local environment.”
Geraghty says that good neighbour policies may need to be put in place to allow work to extend later into the evening in a built-up area, and local authorities should take a common-sense approach to community disturbance. He says: “Each council has the flexibility to decide to take action where it’s expedient. I think it will depend on the council and project and local environment. If you’re working on a site that’s isolated, you’ll have a lot more flexibility.”
Extending health and safety practices. Working later in the day carries a greater risk of accidents on site. There is poorer visibility in the evenings and a temptation to allow lengthy shifts. Arcadis managing director of buildings Edel Christie says that, to mitigate these risks, health and safety procedures such as safety briefings must be more thorough and frequent, while also taking social distancing into account.
She says “Staggering working hours will help in terms of taking small groups in for briefings. Clients need to understand the expectations that have been put on contractors and allow them the time and space to carry out these extra health and safety measures from a productivity point of view.”
Abusing the system. But every change in regulation offers an opportunity for some to abuse the system. When it comes to working hours, particularly on a delayed project, forced overtime to speed up productivity is a danger. Christie says construction should work together as an industry and share responsibility across the supply chain to make sure this does not happen.
“When people push schedules, that’s when we have issues from a health and safety perspective. We shouldn’t be diminishing our responsibilities and there are no excuses,” says the Arcadis director. “We all have personal professional responsibility; it shouldn’t be about a regulator like the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) telling us what to do and checking on us. We should already as an industry be saying, ‘we know what good practice looks like’ and be operating to that standard as a minimum.”
Cash incentive. Boosting onsite hours and site productivity could potentially help generate much-needed cashflow for the supply chain.
ADEPT’s Geraghty appreciates the importance of these gains: “It’s important to keep generating cashflow in the medium term, as we might not see the financial impact until six or eight months down the line when issues will really bite.”
Open all hours. Will extended opening hours help clear the backlog of work and increase productivity in the industry? Not to mention the effects on people whose peace and quiet will be abused?