COVID-19 SPECIAL

Regular checks on worksites by BCA to prevent resurgence of infections

To help ensure that there will not be a resurgence of Covid-19 infections in construction, a team of about 200 officers from the Building and Construction Authority are on the ground every week, visiting an average of 1,000 worksites a week.

Every week, about 200 officers fan out across the island, visiting an average of 1,000 construction worksites to assess if they are correctly implementing safe management measures.

This is more than three times the weekly average of 300 sites visited between June and last month as construction activities resumed and intensified after Singapore ended its circuit breaker on June 1.

These officers from the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) are a crucial part of Singapore's anti-Covid-19 "army", whose mission is to ensure the country does not suffer a resurgence of infections at construction worksites, where large numbers of foreign workers are employed.

Their vital role in the reopening of Singapore's economy cannot be over-emphasised.

Working largely out of public sight, these safety assessors ensure that the construction sector restarts without putting Singapore at risk of returning to the dark days of between April and June.

During that period, hundreds of new Covid-19 cases were recorded daily as the virus spread swiftly in foreign worker dormitories and worksites. The situation contributed to the two-month circuit breaker, when worksites and much of Singapore shut down.

But worksites have begun to hum again as the economy reopens progressively. BCA told The Straits Times that to date, about 3,000 construction sites have been assessed, with its officers visiting these sites more than once.

According to BCA, most worksites have implemented the slew of safe management measures.

"Companies do see the need to protect their workers and prevent a resurgence of Covid-19, which may halt work completely and derail the good progress we have made in restarting the industry," said the BCA spokesman.

BCA's figures show that the proportion of assessed worksites with inadequate safe management measures has dropped from 10 per cent in August to about 8.5 per cent now.

These measures include segregating workers into different zones to reduce inter-mingling and ensuring that workers have staggered meal times on site.

But shortcomings persist at some sites. About 170 stern warnings and about 70 safety time-outs have hitherto been issued, said BCA.

The three-day time-out, when work is suspended, is imposed for major inadequacies, like not appointing a safe management officer. Builders are to use the time to correct the situation.

But no stop-work orders have been issued to date.

This is because the faults so far are not egregious. They tend to be about workers not wearing face masks or not being segregated properly into different zones.

Others include contractors deploying insufficient safe management officers on site or failing to have visual markers - like strips or bands in different colours - for easy identification of various segregated teams.

To prevent such faults from occurring, the main contractor is required to appoint a safe management officer who has to attend a BCA course on how to implement the measures. More than 53,000 of them have completed the course, BCA said.

Project director Tong Wing South from TPS Construction said training and familiarising workers with the safe management measures was a new challenge.

"We tried to lead by example, for instance, by using hand sanitiser frequently and observing staggered rest hours," he said.

Mr Tong also said BCA safety assessors visit its worksites regularly, with one site getting an assessor as often as once a week.

Mr Eddy Lau, executive director of the Specialists Trade Alliance of Singapore, which represents specialist contractors and suppliers in building and construction, said after some initial difficulties, most in the industry have grown accustomed to the new measures.

One major challenge he cited is segregating workers into designated work zones, "which is logistically complex as you have to plan the workflow in advance".

While productivity has suffered, Mr Lau said contractors see the merits of the safety measures and regular assessments.

"They are for the benefit of everyone in the industry. We cannot afford to have another wave of Covid-19 in the sector again - it'll be very costly for the whole country."


This article has been edited for clarity.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2020, with the headline 'Regular checks on worksites by BCA to prevent resurgence of infections'. Subscribe