A return to work for built environment professionals: Infrastructure development instrumental for disease control

05 May 2020

As South Africans settle into stage four lockdown which came into effect on 1 May, various industries are getting acquainted with what this means for their operations. Businesses are having to consider how to get back into action while still ensuring health and safety is kept top of mind.

“The built environment sector is one such industry which has been given greater freedom to operate,” says Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) CEO, Chris Campbell. While ‘critical public works construction’ was still allowed under level five, ‘other public works civil engineering projects’ have been permitted under level four. “In returning to work, it can’t be business as usual,” said Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi. Campbell comments: “As Minister Nxesi said, we must embrace ‘business unusual’ and ensure we adhere to the strictest health and safety precautions as some individuals return to work.”

“Beyond the widely reported concerns for our economy,” adds Campbell, “our industry needs to get back into action for the wellbeing of the country. The completion of infrastructure projects is not just about economic stimulation. Our country’s public works infrastructure is in dire need of maintenance and development so that it can better serve our people and keep them safe. Failed infrastructure is exacerbating the risk of Covid-19, especially when it comes to water, wastewater treatment and sanitation. The construction industry needs to get back to work to mitigate these risks.”

While clean running water is obviously critical for good hygiene, Campbell reports a deeper reason for starting work on water projects, with huge implications for disease control. “The inlets to wastewater treatment plants can be tested for traces of the coronavirus, and it can be determined which communities are showing higher infection rates. This provides the medical authorities with a clearer idea of where to focus their attention when it comes to screening, testing and treatment for Covid-19,” explains Campbell.

The return to the workplace

“As an industry well-acquainted with adhering to health and safety measures, we are confident that built environment professionals will rise to the challenge of doing everything possible to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” said Campbell. To assist the industry with best-practice guidelines, CESA has put together a helpful guide for the safe management of work processes. “While the ideal case is still for as many people as possible to work from home, the guide details onsite safety measures for those who must return to the physical workplace.” This includes:

  • Wearing of masks at all times.
  • Daily temperature screening.
  • Widely available hand sanitiser.
  • Twice daily sterilisation of workspaces and common areas (including railing, elevator buttons, door handles etc).
  • Strictly only employees onsite (staff cannot bring children to work).
  • Meetings limited to four people.
  • Staggered lunchbreaks to avoid crowding.
  • Two-metre physical distancing at all times.

“It is important to remember that South Africa is still facing a massive risk, and we cannot get complacent. Failure to comply with these measures will see us lose the progress we have made in containing the spread of Covid-19, and South Africa’s economy can ill-afford further restrictions. There are of course many unknowns around managing the various exposures that may exist when implementing stages in the full project process and there are no specific guidelines. The prevailing principle should though always be to remain aware of and then manage the risk by ensuring the correct additional PPE, insist on the frequent use of hand sanitiser and hand washing and maintain social distancing where practically possible. With South Africa’s ‘curve’ expected to peak in September this year, we have a long way to go before we can relax,” concludes Campbell. The full CESA guide, Organisational Covid-19 Return to Work Management Processes, can be found online here:



CESA Contact details:

Bonolo Nkgodi

Manager: Marketing and Communications

Tel: 011 463 2022

[email protected]

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