How Businesses Are Combining Site Work With Social Distancing
With official guidance in place, three professionals reveal how they’re managing new ways of working on site
Professional advice from: Martyn Wilson of Wilson Associates Garden Design; Emma Merry of Emma Merry Styling; Kate Clare of LOUD Architecture & Interior Design
“The key thing is to keep clients updated on the current advice and warn them of any potential delays due to material shortages,” garden designer Martyn Wilson says. “Most clients have been wonderful and understanding and appreciate you’re going the extra mile to continue their project, and protecting them and your team.”
Martyn is also completing as much pre-site work as possible by phone and video call, and making good use of client brief forms and photos of the homeowners’ existing gardens. “So far, this has worked very well,” he says.
Architect Kate Clare emphasises the importance of technical flexibility. “With new clients, we’ll communicate by FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and even the Houseparty app – whatever they have!” she says. “We’re continuing our current weekly meetings with our existing clients and site meetings by Zoom and phone call.”
Kate is conducting site checks remotely, too, although she admits this isn’t always easy. “We offer two separate types of procurement – ‘Contract Administrator’, where all the admin/decisions go through us on site, or ‘Design Monitor’, where we simply pop our heads in to check the quality of the design the builder is building. [The former] requires an in-depth look over the live sites and this is challenging by video link. However, our weekly video meetings for progress and checking samples are working quite well.”
Martyn says that where site work is required, he advises homeowners to maintain social distancing. “We discourage our lovely clients from offering hot drinks, biscuits and cakes,” he says.
Both Martyn and interior designer Emma Merry agree that, where possible, homeowners should also make a separate entrance available for trades. Emma says a side return gate entrance with direct access to the rear of the site, especially if that is where the works are taking place, would be ideal.
“We are erecting a gazebo at the front of the side return gate [on one of our projects] that will act as the site PPE office and sanitation station,” Emma says. “Here, we’ll ask trades to sanitise their hands and small handheld equipment with the wipes and gel provided.”
Emma has also organised PPE equipment boxes, allowing each member of the team the space to prepare correctly with mask and gloves before entering the site. A sealed box for used PPE will be emptied daily. Each trade will be asked to arrive 10 minutes apart to avoid large gatherings in the gazebo.
“The same principle could be applied at the front entrance [of a site], but on a smaller scale,” Emma says.
Kate says her firm is encouraging trades to bring pre-made, wrapped food and take litter away with them. They’re also advised, where possible, not to use local outlets for takeaways.
Emma says that if trades do need to use clients’ facilities, they will notify homeowners and sanitise before and after use.
“This did prove difficult at the start, with many mobile toilet providers closing down, and was one reason for the delay in returning to projects,” Martyn says. “But this situation has slowly improved and we now have mobile toilets on site and definitely avoid entering the clients’ homes at all times. The team bring their lunch, flasks and drinks, so there’s no need to enter a kitchen.”
Emma says she’s aiming to isolate the work area within the client’s home. “For example, if the project is a full kitchen replacement, this is a fairly simple exercise in the current climate, as most kitchens will have a back door or access to the outside,” she says. This works where there is separate access to the garden.
“If possible,” she continues, “we would suggest clients clear the kitchen of all items needed for daily life – kettle, toaster, crockery, cutlery and microwave. We would then ask them to set up an F1-style pitstop kitchen in the living room or dining room. A small trestle table can act as a makeshift worktop.
She advises that the entrance from the kitchen to the hallway should then remain sealed until the project concludes. “This will allow the installers to work with rear ventilation and away from the family in the house. No cause for close daily contact,” she says.
Emma is asking trades to limit the time spent transitioning through the communal areas by keeping the tools for the job in the room for the duration of the works.
Martyn keeps tools off-site, but would have done this anyway. “We tend to lock up or take our tools home each evening to keep them secure and we each bring our own set, so this avoids handling between the team.”
Sourcing samples from within the UK has not been a problem for Kate, though she admits to difficulties with European supplies. “On one of our sites, the delay from an Italian stone supplier meant we were unable to lay the ground floor tiles, so weren’t able to install the kitchen, resulting in an unexpected storage cost for the client,” she says.
Martyn explains that sourcing plants as well as building and landscaping materials has been difficult and had a knock-on impact on schemes. He’s had to delay these projects until the autumn. “Some growers are still suggesting lengthy delivery times due to staff shortages and the need to maintain distancing within their own operations,” he adds.
She’s working on the assumption there could be supply issues for the next 18 months. “Getting around this will require sourcing with military precision on the build schedule,” she says. “Working with your site manager, draft a list of materials, tools and fitted products you’ll need to complete the project in its entirety. This should then be ordered and stored on site.”
Where space is tight at clients’ homes, Emma’s firm will employ storage containers that can be sited on a driveway or in the garden. “As each item is loaded into the container, an inventory is created, then updated daily as items are used. The full inventory should remain in the container for reference during the build.” She’s also asked trades to keep materials at their own HQs where possible.
Emma says where a site is uninhabited for the duration of the project, she would employ site zoning. “One of our sites is a three-storey townhouse and is completely empty, but the work permits multiple trades,” she says.
She is deploying a zoning system, where each trade works in its ventilated space for an allotted time. “Once complete, the space is ventilated and touch points sanitised ready for the next trade to start work,” she says. “We’ve implemented the ruling of only five people on one floor at any one time. It’s an idealistic approach and, in practice, I’m not sure how this will work. However, it’s one solution to keep a project moving.”
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All trades are being asked to keep 2m apart from each other, face away from one another, and work in different parts of the site – except in the case of an emergency, such as a fire or accident, if it would be unsafe to do so. “Workers are also encouraged to have staggered breaks while conforming to HSE [health and safety] guidelines,” she adds.
Kate is also aiming to make use of the temporary lifting of noise abatement rules, which would allow trades to work during evenings and weekends and help to close up delays to projects caused by the lockdown.
What challenges have you overcome working within the government guidelines on construction projects and in residential homes? Share your experiences in the Comments.