Covid-19: An Engineering Approach to Protecting Workers During the Pandemic

With Covid-19 continuing to impact construction sites and workplaces globally, ICE’s latest report is designed to help companies assess virus exposure risk and keep workers safe and healthy.

ICE's guide to protecting construction workers during the pandemic is available now

ICE has released new guidance urging construction firms against a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when managing the health, safety and wellbeing of workers amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

'Covid-19: An Engineering Approach to Protecting Workers During the Pandemic' is designed to be read in conjunction with appropriate statutory guidance and ensure blanket rules and restrictions are not applied across the entire construction industry.

How can workers function safely during a pandemic?

Covid-19 presents particular threats to a population, with certain demographics potentially more prone to the severest outcomes. The report notes that the construction industry must take appropriate measures to protect its workforce and their families, minimise the virus exposure risk and enable the continuation of productive economic work.

Therefore, when reviewing and revising Construction Phase Plans and related risk assessments, taking account of the potential presence of coronavirus and the likelihood of workers contracting Covid-19, employers must engage with individual employees to establish their level of exposure to risk and the appropriateness of protective measures.

Who is the guidance for?

Developed by ICE’s Expert Panel on Safety, Health and Wellbeing, this document is designed to help companies prepare and manage their workplaces in the pandemic, including any reopening and ongoing strategies, complementing the guidance from national organisations such as; the UK’s Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) standard operating procedures (CLC 2020), the Construction Industry Federation in Ireland (CIF 2020) or Construction Scotland for example.

This guidance document is a curation of the numerous guidance and advice already available, distilled into a practical worker-centred ‘solution finder’ that meets the needs of the public health emergency and the economic crisis, and it encompasses both the principles of prevention and ethically aligned design principles.

Guidance covers how to deal with the exposure risk when:

  • Planning, designing, and/or carrying out construction work
  • Travelling to and from the workplace
  • Workers are living away from their normal homes

Why is a workplace-specific approach important?

Specific trustworthy sources of advice and guidance can be applied to managing the work process, while dealing with Covid-19 and other transferrable threats to the health of the workforce. This guidance addresses the work activities and resources needed to protect individual workers and their families who are or who may be exposed to the hazard.

It also emphasises how generic rules cannot be applied across all projects and shows how a collaborative construction site-specific approach should be taken to assessing individuals’ exposure to hazards and protecting the workforce.

Comment from the Chair

ICE’s Safety, Health and Wellbeing Panel Chair, Ciaran McAleenan, said: “A top-down, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach just does not work. As is true with any general safety, health and wellbeing guidance, the control measures need to be tailored to the specific circumstances and the requirements of each workplace, taking into account the number of workers impacted, the layout of the workplace and the demographics of those likely to be affected.

“We must remember that some people are more vulnerable and therefore at greater risk than others, for instance, workers from a minority ethnic background, workers with underlying medical conditions or older workers potentially more prone to the severest outcomes upon contraction of Covid-19.

“There is an opportunity for our industry to use the return to work to support the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goal 8: ‘Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’.

“The construction industry and the civil engineering sector in particular can take a lead and show serious initiative by strongly focusing on how, in our recovery planning, we are working to achieve and sustain workers’ mental, physical and economic wellbeing.”

Read the full guide