Construction resilience in the era of Covid

27 October 2020

The construction industry’s talents will always be needed, says Philip Pointon sustainability director at Pasquill

The construction sector is currently putting the pieces back together, creating a ‘new normal’ as they reopen sites and reconnect with customers. I’m relieved that Pasquill is now operating at full capacity, and that my colleagues can work safely, but there’s no denying that it’s been difficult.

Being responsible for health, safety and sustainability at an organisation with huge timber engineering factories and output across the UK, I’ve spent the past few months looking endlessly at how we can build our resilience. I’d like to share three key lessons I’ve learnt so far.

We’re all facing a need to balance public health while getting the economy moving again. And there are quick wins across the board – PPE, social distancing, working from home where possible etc.

We’ve transitioned back by creating a positive and safe atmosphere, providing training both in person and via video. Our planning began in March and covers everything from doors that can be opened with feet to employee mental health.

For us, social distancing on a noisy factory floor has been hard, so we’ve marked out a 2m2 grid to prompt people to stay apart. And it’s not all bad, as we found the deep cleans conducted prior to reopening gave us the opportunity to rearrange the sites in a more efficient manner and consequently now create less waste.

Be sure to communicate your measures with your customers too, to give them the confidence that their order won’t suddenly be delayed due to an outbreak on your factory floor.

Homes still need to be built, and the government’s ‘Build Back Better’ campaign needs to happen in the safest and most economical way possible. Off-site manufacturing (OSM) has always had substantial benefits and is now undeniably the way forward.

Many construction sites are finding it hard to comply with social distancing, which is where OSM can help. For example, a timber roof manufactured in safe, controlled factory conditions, delivered and craned into place is a much safer mitigation than many builders working in close proximity on a cut roof.

We’re lucky to have several sister companies – Scotframe, International Timber and Roofspace Solutions – who together with Pasquill form the Saint-Gobain Off-Site Solution Division. This has helped us to provide a wider range of solutions so even the most complex timber project can be completed off-site.

The economy hugely relies on our sector and highlighting these construction methods can give builders the confidence to continue with their projects. Now more than ever, we have a responsibility to deliver social impact. I believe this will particularly play a more important role in the procurement process.

For example, in April research suggested that 38% of people in the UK felt organisations should donate PPE equipment. We have specifically purchased our face shields from an organisation who puts its profits back into funding PPE for the NHS.

This is a small example of how every pound can deliver additional social value, and we’ll explore more ways to deliver tangible benefits post pandemic.

All in all, I’m confident we can heal the scars of the past few months with small, positive steps forward. Already we’re seeing a reassuring bounce back and despite the challenges to come, the construction industry’s talents will always be needed.

Philip Pointon