Sector - Health & Safety
Twelve Months on From COVID
Time certainly flies. It’s hard to believe it’s only been a year since Boris took to that now famous lectern to inform us the COVID-19 problem was more serious than we initially thought.
As panic and uncertainty spread, and lockdown after lockdown was announced, the shape of the UK’s socio-economic landscape evolved. Couple this with the Brexit transition, the downfall of Trump and the ongoing climate emergency and you has the recipe for a highly unusual year.
However, for the construction and building products sectors it’s been a slightly different story. Despite an initial shutdown, many businesses were able to continue operating, albeit in a slightly different way to normal, giving it a level of security not reflected across all parts of UK industry. So 12 months on, we ask a handful of companies for their thoughts on where we’ve been and predictions on where we’re going.
A Breath of Fresh Air
“The COVID-19 Pandemic hit the commercial construction sector hard, evidenced by the mass exodus from in-office to at-home working. However, we’re starting to see the green shoots of recovery emerge and a returning confidence, borne out by last week’s encouraging ONS figures which showed an encouraging, if conservative, uptick in output.
“What will certainly change is the environment we work in. The last year has seen a reappraisal of layout, particularly to limit any risk to worker welfare through future virus outbreaks.
“Further, a firmer commitment to Net Zero 2050 means these reimagined spaces will need to be delivered in as an environmentally-friendly way as possible. As such, I think criteria such as good air quality through passive ventilation, fabric first, circular design and smart systems will become standard. Ultimately these modern methods will become a driving force behind commercial architecture, improving staff health, comfort and productivity, benefiting workforce and employer alike.” – Erik Boyter, CEO, WindowMaster
The pandemic has affected the construction industry across the globe in different ways. While the sector has certainly faced its challenges, our customers from the UK to the UAE, Ireland to Australia, have proven to be resilient, with the use of technology playing a big part in the industry’s steady recovery.
Digital project management, design collaboration and field-based tools allow teams to work together and update clients without the need for site visits. This has encouraged both social distancing and better time management, which, in an increasingly digitalised world, is likely to continue long after the pandemic. – Tom Boland, Global Head of Digital Construction, Zutec
Back on the Block
“Our members were quick to react to the first lockdown with many measures put in place early on meaning near continuous operation of block-making plants across the UK. Plenty of reserve stock also meant there was never any danger of a shortage with long and short lead orders being honoured, offering relief to the UK housebuilding community. Further, as much of the process is automated and operated by a small, on-site workforce, adhering to government guidelines and establishing safety protocol was a relatively efficient process.
Looking ahead, we know sustainable building, using passive techniques will become a major influence. Combining a fabric first approach with smart HVAC will ensure properties remain cool in the summer and warm in the winter without further contributing to climate change. I think built environment professionals, particularly specifiers, have had time to reflect over lockdown and consider generic terms like ‘sustainability’ and ‘value’ giving them a deeper meaning. I expect words like ‘longevity’, ‘locally-sourced’ and ‘circular’ will become more typical in the design brief post-COVID.” – Chris Stanley, Modern Masonry
A Healthy Start
“We’ve noticed certain sectors of the market expanding, and others contracting. Certainly, the commercial sector has slowed as people abandon city centre offices for home working. However, we don’t feel this is a terminal situation and a rebound is already on the horizon, though the future landscape may look very different.
“One area we’ve seen grow significantly is healthcare work, the pandemic has thrown light onto the capacity, and capabilities, of our healthcare system. Changing demand is encouraging greater funding for new and enhanced facilities. We’ve definitely seen a spike in tenders over the last 12 months, which we feel is sure to rise throughout 2022.” – Rachel Davis, Director, Perega
Powering-up the green agenda
“The COVID-19 pandemic has given society plenty of time and opportunity to think long and hard about pressing, global issues, particularly climate change and how we address it. The construction industry is no exception.
“One area which will be a key focus is our energy infrastructure, particularly as reliance on green electricity, for both commercial and residential buildings, will increase exponentially. Current renewable capabilities are not enough and we need to start considering a wider range of alternatives to power a no-carbon UK. Tidal is one resource which has been woefully under-explored and my hope is that, as we work towards a more sustainable society we reappraise its potential to deliver consistent, reliable, clean energy.” – Stuart Murphy, Founder, TPGen24
Focus on our most valuable asset
“At UK Connect, we take pride in our ‘people-first policy’. One of our first initiatives during the first COVID-19 lockdown was to launch an Employee Assistance Programme to offer round the clock counselling and advice on a confidential basis. Over and above that, we have given staff the ability to choose their working hours so employees can manage their childcare and home-schooling more easily without the pressure of set time frames.
“We also wanted staff to know that we really do care about their wellbeing so gave them the option to spend points on ‘personal luxury items’ throughout lockdown such as Amazon vouchers or flower and book subscriptions to help boost company morale. This approach continues into 2021” – PJ Farr, Managing Director, UK Connect
So, whilst there seems to be a degree of cautious optimism, it also appears the ‘rules of the game’ have changes.
Long awaiting developments, such as a digital revolution, a renewed commitment to Net Zero 2050, and a reappraisal of building design are characterising the post-COVID business environment.
What’s clear is we’re now on a markedly different, and some might say more dynamic and competitive playing field, on which construction has the opportunity to play a starring role.
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