An Interview with Oktra’s Group Health and Safety Director
We spoke with Martin Peck, our Group Health and Safety Director, about safety in the construction industry during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what he had to say about implementing precautionary measures, the importance of teamwork and surpassing government-issued regulations.
Q: What is it like working as Oktra’s Head of Health and Safety during a pandemic, and what was it like creating the procedures that we’re using on site?
A: I think the word for it is challenging. This situation is unique: it’s nothing that anybody in the construction industry – in any industry – has come across before.
We are faced with a completely different challenge than we’ve come across before. It’s not been easy, but for me it’s been about understanding the virus and how it’s spread, then coming up with control measures that ensure no one is working at risk.
A lot of that is led by the government’s industry guidance. I’m also quite lucky that my wife is a nurse, so I get to talk to her about NHS protocols and we’ve been trying to implement similar measures for operation.
Q: What were some of the initial precautions we put in place?
A: Once London went into lockdown it was about getting guidance to site managers. That was what I called ‘The Action Plan,’ and it covered how we were going to manage sites. Social distancing was the first thing we put into place. We were only going to keep working if we could do so safely. We worked with our supply chain to communicate and establish exactly how we were going to keep everybody safe.
Q: We have some really strong relationships with our suppliers – how important do you think the strength of those relationships was?
A: Absolutely critical. We’ve been able to react the way we have because of the way we’ve managed to communicate and work together.
Q: How did we get everyone on the same page, how did we start that communication?
A: It started with our in-house project managers and then went on to our supply chain. I’ve had team meetings and daily phone calls with them to make sure everyone has the same understanding. I’ve also been visiting every one of our sites fortnightly, if not once a week, in order to personally make sure we are only operating in the safest possible way – going above and beyond government guidelines to make sure we’re not putting anybody at risk. We’ve actually had suppliers who had decided to take a step back come visit our sites and then, upon seeing the standards we’re adhering to, decide to come back to work.
Q: Do you think our nature as a D&B company has anything to do with Oktra’s ability to respond to everything so quickly?
A: We’ve always had to think on our feet. Under normal circumstances, we come across problems on a daily basis and we come up with practical solutions to them. It’s absolutely the nature of what we do; it’s enabled us to move this forward quickly and make sure that all the necessary measures are in place.
Q: Can you expand on some of the safety measures we have in place?
A: We’re operating with the absolute minimum number of people on site at all times in order to uphold social distancing measures. We’ve completely changed our operating hours by staggering shifts so that we can maintain programme for clients but do so safely and responsibly. We’ve got free PPE equipment for everyone on site, and we’re sanitising surfaces constantly – we’ve hired additional staff to do so. Even down to the pens employees use to sign-in. No one touches the same pen until it’s been sanitised. The canteen is only two people per table, staggering breaks to reduce the number of employees using the space at any one time. We’re only operating where we can fully maintain social distancing – any work that doesn’t allow us to do so has been put on hold.
Q: What advice would you give other professionals in the construction industry based on what you’ve learned so far?
A: Know what you’re up against. Like I said, what we’re experiencing across the world is unprecedented, so the first step is understanding it. Then it’s about establishing the right procedures, communicating effectively with your delivery teams and supply chain and working together to implement that. It’s a case of supporting people as well – checking in to make sure everyone is okay with what’s going on.
Q: Do you think any of what we’re doing in response to the pandemic could become SOP once coronavirus subsides?
A: Certainly. There are easy ways to do things remotely that would traditionally be done on site. Site meetings for example, contractors used to drive to, say, Bristol from London just for weekly meetings. That can be done virtually with video conferencing software. I think there are going to be a few strong positives to take out of this experience, definitely. The industry will learn a lot.
Q: What do you think is the biggest risk that we need to be aware of at this point in time?
A: Complacency. This will only continue to work if we stay diligent and focused with what we’re doing. We can’t have anyone starting to think we’re in the clear with this virus, because we’re not. We’re far from it.
Transparency is important to us. If you have any questions about the way our sites are operating during the coronavirus pandemic, you can reach us using the contact form below; we’re ready to start a conversation.