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Construction sector to resume work gradually from June 2, with strict safe distancing measures

Construction sector to resume work gradually from June 2, with strict safe distancing measures
Most construction work has been suspended during the Covid-19 circuit breaker measures. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Building contractors can gradually resume operations from June 2, starting with critical projects, but they must put in place new safe distancing requirements.

These include avoiding cross-deployment of workers between projects and implementing contact tracing technology at worksites, the Government announced at a virtual press conference on Friday (May 15).

Most construction work has been suspended during the circuit breaker period that began on April 7, with only 5 per cent of the construction workforce - or about 20,000 workers - continuing to work on a few critical projects and those that cannot be left idle for long for safety reasons.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) expects another 5 per cent of the workforce to gradually resume work, which means about 10 per cent of them will be out at work in June.

Priority will be given to projects such as MRT works, deep tunnelling of sewerage systems and residential renovation projects that were suspended.

All projects will need BCA's approval before they can restart.

Also, foreign construction workers must be tested before they can return to work.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said: "I hope the industry understands that there will not be a 100 per cent resumption of construction activities from Day One. It will be controlled."

He added: "It's better to get it right than to rush into it and then see a reoccurrence of large clusters in this sector."

Most important factor for getting BCA approval

Projects will get the green light when their contractors can demonstrate they can implement the requisite safeguards. That is more important than how critical the project is.

"Even if a project is most meritorious of restarting work but the contractor is unable to show the safeguards are doable, they are not able to put all workers at same site... then they will not be able to resume work, no matter how important the project is," he said.

Mr Wong also said projects not on the approved priority list could be allowed to restart if they can show they have the safeguards in place.

The multi-ministry Covid-19 task force is working on testing all foreign workers living in dormitories. Those who have recovered or tested negative will stay in buildings for recovered workers, and their entry and exit in and out of the premises will be tightly controlled.

There will also be regular testing of construction workers.

BCA's chief executive Hugh Lim said the authorities are looking at doing tests every two weeks.

Details are being worked out with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to ensure the scale and frequency of testing can be fully supported as construction activities resume.

"In principle, these costs should be borne by the employer but we will be working with MOH on how costs will be borne among the different parties involved," he said.


What employers need to provide workers

Before they can restart, employers have to fulfil a list of requirements.

These include being able to respond swiftly should a worker be infected and have in place a system to track daily the health of workers. Workers can also download contact tracing apps like TraceTogether.

Employers must manage their workers' social interactions where they live and group them in lodgings according to the construction projects they are working on.

This means workers from different companies working on the same project have to be housed together.

Employers need to provide dedicated transport between the workplace and accommodation of these workers. In addition, they must ensure the workers wear face masks and are seated at safe distances, with the typical lorry ferrying at most, half its capacity.

At worksites, safe management officers must be appointed and tracking technology implemented.

These include the national digital check-in system SafeEntry, which should be installed at the worksite as a whole as well as at specific zones in the site.

Workers must have their health status screened before they enter the worksite.

Posters and infographics in the native languages of migrant workers must be put up to remind them of personal hygiene.

Employers also have to ensure the workers reduce their physical interactions with one another by staggering breaks and separating them into different teams, with each team restricted to working in a single zone.

There should be no cross-deployment among different teams from different worksites or shifts.

Workers must wear face masks at all times when working

Employers will have to provide individually-packed meals with personal tableware for each worker and use clear visual identifiers - like stickers on helmets - for workers to identify their team members and avoid those not in the same team.

Workers will have to don personal protective equipment like face masks on site at all times.

Delivery or logistics workers have to stay in their cabins or vehicles and communicate with workers only through digital devices like walkie-talkies. Should they need to come out, they must wear face masks and keep a safe distance from other workers.

Worksite premises must be kept clean, including disinfecting shared facilities that are used often and by many. Employers should provide naturally-ventilated outdoor rest areas, adequate hand-washing stations and a supply of hand sanitiser that workers can carry with them.

There will be audit and inspection regimes to ensure safe practices are followed.

More details will be given in about a week's time.

BCA's Mr Lim said his agency will work closely with the industry and relevant trade associations and chambers to put the measures in place.

"We recognise that such measures are an additional imposition, but we are very heartened that companies do see the need to protect their workers and prevent further outbreaks of Covid-19, which may halt work and derail the restart."

He added the industry will need to be very careful as it resumes work, at least for the first two months.

"We also want to see the extent to which the industry is able to implement very tight measures, because if (contractors) find them hard to implement even on a limited scale, or if we expand too quickly, there will be breaches.

"We want to avoid a situation where the industry has to stop again on a large scale after having restarted."

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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