COVID-19: Dedication, Collaboration and Innovation to Keep Sites Open
Shortlisted for Brownfield Awards Category 3 - Best Industry Innovation / Adaptation to Covid 19
Erith Contractors Limited (Erith) and Wood Group UK Ltd (Wood) were completing several large scale and complex brownfield demolition and remediation projects across the UK for National Grid Property (NGP) when the UK was suddenly and severely impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis in early 2020.
Management of impacts associated with COVID-19 was swift and included innovation and significant changes to normal working practices. Changes were collaborative between the entire project team. This has been a very uncertain time, when the requirement to understand and proactively manage new and ever changing risks was unlike anything previously seen in the UK.
Erith, with the full support of the wider project team (NGP, Wood and RSK (NGP’s health and safety advisor)), quickly and collaboratively adapted working practices and innovated to ensure all six sites remained fully operational, and staff safe and supported, ahead of and during the nationwide lockdown.
This advance and swift reaction by Erith and Wood ensured that several strategic brownfield projects could be continued with full consideration of the safety of people. It has enabled these key sites to progress towards future redevelopment for much needed housing and other beneficial uses.
Adaptations and Innovations
Erith and Wood quickly innovated to implement measures in early 2020 before government guidance and the nationwide lockdown.
Early innovations included the manufacture of bespoke mobile handwashing stations, printing of hi- viz vests and bespoke site signage.
Additional measures rapidly evolved as government and construction leadership council guidance was issued and revised. Changes were made to all aspects of sites including use of welfare, social distancing, use of PPE etc.
Such measures have now become commonplace; however, these were implemented by the project team before government guidance was available.
• COVID-19 emergency response plans/guidance notes developed and briefed to site teams. Including contingency measures for staff and suppliers.
• Limiting site staff and visitors to essential only. Therefore, preventing unnecessary people on site and reducing travel.
• Introduction of the requirement to complete health declaration forms for all staff/visitors before coming to the site (implementation of a site- specific early track and trace
• Minimising the use of public transport – travel to be as individuals in private vehicles to avoid contact with others en-route to work.
• Increased frequency of deep cleaning of welfare areas to ensure frequent disinfection of touch points and surfaces etc.
• Staggered arrival to work/departure from work/breaks to avoid any crowding at any particular location at the site.
• No sharing of equipment. Dedicated labelled equipment used for each individual.
• Team briefings / toolbox talks held outside in a socially distanced manner to allow for ventilation.
• Adaptation of audits so that paperwork was reviewed in advance, allowing the site visit to focus on observing the works outdoors. Meaning no entry into the site
cabins for visitors e.g., maintaining the site team working “bubble”.
• Provision of additional space in welfare to allow for social distancing. Each member of staff was given a dedicated sitting place and materials (e.g., mugs, cutlery) in the welfare area, to avoid sharing resources.
• Deliveries were designed to avoid personal contact with others e.g., gloves were worn when handling paperwork and no sharing of
pens. If remote signatures such as photos were acceptable these
• Site teams encouraged to bring food to site to reduce the need to visit local shops.
• Disposable gloves provided at site gate, enabling visitors to radio through to the site manager without “touching” the radio.
• Manufacture of bespoke mobile handwashing stations. Allowing hand cleansing outdoors whilst working and whilst in more remote parts of the sites.
Sharing is Caring
Adaptations, innovation and examples of good practice were shared with the wider NGP supply chain during the earlier weeks of the pandemic, ensuring that sensible measures were propagated.
This proactive knowledge sharing by Erith and Wood helped to assist other companies at a time where formal government and CLC guidance was not yet available.
The mental wellbeing of all staff was paramount during such uncertain and worrying times.
Site staff were encouraged to share ideas in respect to COVID-19 and any mitigation measures.
There was also a significant positive affect on the mental wellbeing of the whole project team due to sites remaining safely operational, i.e.,
staff members were able to continue working and not be stood down/placed on furlough.
There was also a significant positive affect on the mental wellbeing of the whole project team due to sites remaining safely operational.
The continuing operation of all 6 sites allowed all staff to continue working and not be stood down or placed on furlough.
Considerate Constructor’s monitor inspections at all the sites have concluded that all COVID measures implemented across the sites are robust, along with the support for mental wellbeing during such an unprecedented time.
Feedback from Considerate Constructors included:
“COVID -19 secure measures have been introduced to ensure that all works are carried out in such a manner as to mitigate the chance of virus transmission these are noteworthy and have full buy in from the workforce”.
“The sites care for the health and wellbeing of the workforce by considering occupational health risks such as COVID-19 with all policies and procedures in place, and signage outside and inside the site reminding operatives of the precautions to be observed. Trained mental health First Aider’s are available on site and are proactive in ensuring that all operatives remain well and have readily available mental health support. A range of health and wellbeing posters (including mental health) are available in the canteen and the provision of a healthy breakfast consisting of fruit and cereals on a daily basis”.
New Way of Working
Inspections / meetings etc. were held via remote means such as via Microsoft Teams where credible to
do so, thus minimising visitors to site and any required travel.
Videos and photographs of site activity including the use of virtual walkovers using drone footage were utilised in video conferencing project update calls/meetings, rather than holding these on site. This resulted in the wider team being able to visualise the site and progress of the works even whilst working from home.
All NGP sites being delivered by Erith remained fully open and operational during the nationwide lockdown, and more importantly, no members of staff have contracted COVID-19 and all site workers have felt safe and
fully supported by the whole project team. This has had a significant positive impact on the mental wellbeing of all.
While COVID-19 has disrupted almost everything in our lives and businesses, the way forward is through innovation.
The collaborative team working, and invocation is a brilliant example of how the brownfield industry can adapt and work together to overcome and to continue to safely deliver projects during extremely challenging times.