• 23 Apr 2020

RIAI Produces Discussion Paper for Restarting of Construction Activity

The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has published a series of proposals to support the delivery of safe working environments as construction sites reopen. The publication, titled RIAI Proposals for Reopening of Construction Sites to Promote Suitable Protocols for Working Environments, is intended to assist in getting construction sites functioning post COVID-19 restrictions without compromising quality of construction or compliance with building regulations.

Construction sites present different degrees of risk depending on the building and construction type, the project type, construction stage, site setup and staff welfare, and construction techniques being used. Lower risk building types include warehousing, and roads and rail, while structures which involve professionals working in closer proximity, such as residential and interior fit outs, involve higher risks. 

The initiatives outlined to support risk mitigation on sites include the implementation of a 16-hour shift cycle, the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) by site workers, and amendments to site set ups to allow for social distancing. Also recommended are modifications to construction techniques to allow for single worker operation and, where that is not possible, the modification of how existing site buddy systems are operated. The RIAI has also outlined considerations for how site inspections are undertaken to ensure restrictions are in place. 

On the 16-hour shift cycle, construction, administration and management personnel should be divided into two eight-hour shifts to restrict the number of people on site at any one time while also maintaining daily productivity. Guidelines to manage adherence to social distancing rules across every site will be needed, along with the appointment of social distance and hygiene monitors at each site. In addition, industrial level cleaning, especially after meal breaks, will be required.

On personal protective equipment (PPE), workers on site must be issued with face masks or screens and body protection in line with the nature of the construction project. On higher risk sites, basic hazmat suits with hoods are recommended. The RIAI is recommending that the structure of sites be reviewed and amended to allow for social distancing. Measures should include wider or single direction site walkways, stop-go systems for all stairways, bans on queuing at lifts and appropriate social distancing in canteens. 

Construction techniques must be modified to minimize staff interactions in line with public health guidelines. The RIAI has identified a number of work stages where site activities should be adapted to single operative working. In addition, the Institute is recommending that the use of off-site prefabrication of components should be maximised. Recognising that single operative working is not always possible, the proposals include the modification of a how existing site buddy systems are operated on construction sites. This would allow two people form a permanent team to work together while observing specific protocols.

With regard to site inspections, a risk assessment must be undertaken to gauge whether inspections can be safely carried out in line with HSE and Government directions. The proposals include suggested alternatives to on-site inspections such as the use of structured photography or live video recording by contractors. 

David Browne of RKD Architects who co-authored the publication, said: “The RIAI is taking a lead in supporting the construction industry in returning to work while being absolutely committed to safety and quality. Architects as employers’ representatives are keen to see the industry moving forward, innovating and collaborating to deliver better buildings, however for every construction contract there will be different levels of risk and it will be critical to evaluate the specific risks of each individual project. This publication outlines measures that construction companies need to take to protect against these risks to ensure the worker safety.

The RIAI has called for any site that does not comply with the guidelines to be shut down. The Institute says that Health and Safety Authority personnel need to be increased to ensure the regular inspection of sites to monitor and maintain compliance with guidelines.

Read coverage on this report in the Independent