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How will the construction sector reopen after Covid-19 lockdown?

Building workers will among the first to return to work on May 18th when rules eased

The Health and Safety Authority is responsible for inspecting workplaces as they reopen, to ensure physical distancing measures are in place. File photograph: The Irish Times

The construction sector will be among the big industries to reopen under the Government’s plan to ease coronavirus restrictions as part of phase one next Monday. So what is that going to look like in practice?

When is construction work to start again?

Construction work is to start back in the first phase of the Government’s plan to reopen society on Monday, May 18th. During the lockdown a small number of essential construction projects were allowed to continue, such as healthcare or pharmaceutical infrastructure linked to the State’s coronavirus response.

Emergency repair work by electricians or plumbers for households and businesses was also deemed essential during the lockdown.

What is going to restart on 18th May?

Practically all construction work that has been paused can begin again from next Monday. But industry sources anticipate the sector will be slow to get back into gear due to problems around the wider supply chain and requirements to adhere to social distancing on sites.

Will it be business as usual?

No. There will be an easing-in period where larger construction projects will stagger the number of workers on site.

From the reopening date a site previously with 100 workers may start back with just 20 to ensure physical distancing of 2m between people. It can gradually build up to 30, then 50 on site.


Director general of the Construction Industry Federation Tom Parlon said “big intensive sites are never going to have their full contingent back” while Covid-19 is a threat.

How will social distancing work on sites?

The industry group has drawn up guidelines for how sites can ensure workers are safeguarded against the virus. Staff must confirm they have no symptoms and are not awaiting Covid-19 test results three days before returning to work.

Workers are advised against sharing vehicles travelling to work, and if that is unavoidable to sit as far apart as possible.

Turnstiles at site entrances will be replaced with open doors. Rather than signing on a log book security guards will record details of each worker as they enter the site. This will double for contact-tracing purposes.

Start and finishing times will be staggered, with sanitising stations set up across sites.

Will this work in practice?

It is expected larger sites will be able to adhere to physical distancing by reducing significantly the numbers working at one time. But housing developments such as large apartment complexes will likely find it harder to maintain the distancing requirements.

This will also mean large infrastructure projects, such as the National Children’s Hospital, will have to cope with significantly less workers on site compared to before the pandemic, potentially leading to delays down the line.

What if work sites do not follow the rules?

The Health and Safety Authority is responsible for inspecting workplaces as they reopen, to ensure physical distancing measures are in place.

“Evidence of compliance with the requirements will be sought and appropriate action taken depending on the response,” including follow up inspections, or enforcement action if necessary, said an authority spokesman.

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