What is the best way to keep a construction site open and safe during the era of Covid-19? This is one of the many issues that the construction industry has been grappling with since the onset of the pandemic and the resultant restrictions and regulations. To assist its clients and to enter into a dialogue about how to co-create the best way forward, engineering consultancy Zutari has drawn on its extensive expertise in both health and safety and the built environment to unveil a suite of engineered solutions.
These are broadly grouped into ‘How Healthy is my Construction site?’, ‘How Healthy are my Staff?’, ‘How Healthy is my Building?’ and ‘How Healthy is my Project?’ “We have a reputation in the industry in terms of our holistic approach to health and safety. It is not only an internal focus but part of our corporate culture, which we then decided to leverage as a larger response to Covid-19,” comments Kate Roper, Client Director for Government, Health and Education at Zutari.
From the beginning of the crisis, Zutari rolled out a holistic approach to site health and safety across all of its active projects, from the Bugesera International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda, one of the largest of its kind in Africa, to the Stellenbosch Wastewater Treatment Plant in the Western Cape. “How a construction site is run and managed largely falls under the control of the client, contractor and consultants, but there are many external factors that have to be taken into account,” highlights Roper.
In order to best identify and mitigate these risks, the first step was to conduct intensive workshops with key clients. One of the easiest means to determine a client’s risk exposure is to map out a day in the life of a typical worker, supplier or sub-contractor. This assists clients in understanding how Covid-19 can enter a site, mine, factory or building, and in turn be retransmitted back into the local community.
“It is a two-way interaction that requires identified interventions to halt the transmission of Covid-19 between businesses and communities,” stresses Roper. Another issue is the potential brand damage that can result from misperceptions and false rumours being circulated about workers who are allegedly infected. In addition, dealing with localised hotspots adds yet another layer of complexity.
The early response was simply to close the site and send workers home. However, this strategy was later deemed to be ineffective. For example, the mining industry has found it best to keep workers on-site in temporary accommodation, where it not only has the necessary medical facilities and care, but also the capability to quickly and efficiently test workers for Covid-19.
If a place of work or construction site does have to be closed temporarily, what is the impact on the cash flow of the business? For example, a factory may have complex machinery that requires time to be shut down and then restarted, thereby disrupting production. “These are some of the many factors that impact on the bottom line of a business when it comes to dealing with Covid-19 in as proactive a manner as possible to protect the health and well-being of workers,” adds Roper.
In terms of preparing a building for Covid-19 and beyond, Zutari initially formed part of a voluntary work group organised by Business for South Africa to identify buildings that could be easily converted to house staff on-site and quarantine them safely if need be. “Many rural communities are highly vulnerable and do not have access to adequate healthcare facilities,” points out Roper.
This process was quickly adapted into a generic tool to allow businesses to assess their buildings and facilities for potential risk factors. These ranged from the flow of people into and out of a building, how many people could be safely allowed in a particular space, and whether or not the ventilation system was adequate. The Zutari built environment team codified the tool, which has subsequently been ratified by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). It is now the baseline assessment that any business needs to conduct on the health of a building. “We have really been an industry leader in this regard,” notes Roper.
To allow investors and developers to have confidence in their project data during Covid-19, Zutari has developed a specific capital project appraisal service. For example, as part of its appointment as due diligence inspector at the Royal Buffalo Specialist Hospital in East London, a drone was deployed weekly to capture live footage of the project’s progress. This footage was then analysed by a team of experts to red-flag any issues of concern for the developer.
Another area where Zutari has invested in significantly is the latest digital tools. Recently it acquired the Leica BLK2GO handheld imaging laser scanner, believed to be one of only two available in South Africa at present. The scanner is an example of an innovative technology known as Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM). “We have moved really quickly and confidently into the digital age,” points out Roper.
The handheld scanner essentially digitises a building during a walkthrough by a single person, as opposed to having an entire team on-site that is then at risk. Attaching a 360° camera to the scanner allows for a visual inspection of a building by remote experts. Not only is it a quick digital tool to assist with condition assessment and repairs and maintenance, it also allows for ‘as built’ plans to be produced, especially where such plans are unavailable. This makes it possible for a developer to receive municipal approval for any extensions or even to construct another building on the same site. The application of such innovative technology is important for Zutari to continue to meet the changing needs of its clients in the Covid-19 era. “Our approach is to be a trusted partner to our clients and to have an ongoing dialogue so we can understand their needs better. That is why we use the tagline ‘co-create’, because we establish long-term relationships. A client might start out with a particular service offering, but as we get to understand their needs better, and as the client also becomes more confident in our flexibility and adaptability, so are we able to engineer a much deeper value proposition,” concludes Roper.