Construction industry must collaborate to rebuild itself - comment

The recent opening of the NHS Louisa Jordan at Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition Centre was a great example of Scotland’s construction sector coming together in the country’s hour of need.

Nurses at the NHS Louisa Jordan hospital. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Tradesmen of all genres joined forces to convert the facility into an emergency hospital capable of initially hosting 300 beds, but which could scale up to 1,000 if needed. To accomplish a complex project such as this in only three weeks was no mean feat when you consider the circumstances imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

My own organisation, Veitchi Group, was directly involved. A total of 25 staff from our flooring division accepted the call to action and, working alongside Robertson Construction, laid 13,000 square metres of anti-slip vinyl in only four days. Having been invited at short notice to meet on site on 28 March, we worked with our supply chain across the UK to have materials delivered to site within 48 hours.

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NHS staff clap for construction workers as they finish work on NHS Louisa Jordan

A re-stock of our personal protection equipment was also required, having just donated nearly all our spare resources to the NHS. With all non-essential construction work currently halted and housebuilding sites temporarily mothballed, it’s a deeply worrying time for everyone in the industry. Construction, like many other sectors of the economy, has been left reeling.

A recent study by the University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander Institute said the industry’s output will halve if the current restrictions persist for three months. Housebuilding supports more than 80,000 jobs and contributes in excess of £570 million a year to the government’s reserves. The country can ill afford to have sites sitting idle given we’re also in the midst of a housing crisis.

The question now is: how do we get building sites operational again whilst protecting the safety of site workers? Perhaps we should view this as a welcome chance to reboot general safety standards and working conditions. In these times, the industry must work together to solve the problem. We need to consider changing our processes and procedures to ensure an even more responsible approach.

Veitchi has already begun working with our main contractors and other clients to develop these amended plans. Cooperation will also undoubtedly be required from others, such as planning departments extending site operation hours to allow working rotations.

The government has provided financial assistance initiatives to allow businesses to survive. These initiatives work, if everyone plays their part. This is vital to ensure there still is a functioning construction sector when we can return to other building sites.

Meantime, we are operating on a reduced basis on sites deemed critical for the NHS and other government bodies, affording us the chance to adjust and amend practices to meet the new working criteria.

Jim Preston is group MD, Veitchi Group

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