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The ‘New Normal’ in the world of Construction 

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Loughborough University has recently conducted a study on how the construction industry would benefit from the ‘new normal’ on-site rules since the COVID-19 pandemic. This study has shown some surprising benefits to the construction industry and here’s why… 

COVID-19 has led to huge changes to construction work over the recent months. There have been suggestions that productivity and pre-COVID-19 health and safety may have improved as a result of these recent changes. The Loughborough team was commissioned to investigate some of the changes made and the impact they had to the construction industry. They also looked at whether the continued adoption of the ‘new normal’ work structure might offer long term benefits in the near future. Overall, the COVID-19 changes reflect a phenomenal effort by staff on-site, frontline workers, and occupational safety and health professionals. 

The studies have shown multiple benefits as a result of the measures put in place by the Government. It has shown that employees are working harder, smarter, and faster. More time is being spent planning work tasks; with frontline workers typically working in smaller groups than usual and trades working in sequence as opposed to working side by side. This has led to increased worker effectiveness and productivity, as well as improved housekeeping on most sites. It has helped to mitigate project challenges arising from other COVID-19 impacts, such as a reduced workforce and problems with material supply.  

Here are some of the benefits calculated: 

1.) Planning  

Sites had to plan work more meticulously to ensure there were not too many workers within each area. Measures taken included 

  • More detailed planning for specific tasks 
  • Better forward planning e.g. a regular six-week look-ahead  
  • Work sequencing, allocating only one trade at a time to an area and reducing overlapping interfacing 
  • Increased and more detailed liaison between trades where they both needed access to an area 

2.) Housekeeping  

Housekeeping is said to have improved on most sites, which has led to better productivity and motivationas well as a reduced risk of incidents. This was partly a result of trades working alone and improved planning, but there were also other factors:  

  • “[They] see how tidy it is…do the work… clear up after themselves”  
  • Work sequencing makes it more obvious who has left waste behind, and easier for sites to enforce; it reduces blaming others (with a knock-on positive impact on relationships)  
  • Fewer workers, with fewer materials – Better planning of materials, ‘Just in Time’ procurement  
  • Better tidying, higher expectations to keep walkways clear  
  • Better (closer) provision of bins  
  • Tidiness in welfare also generally improved 

3.) Productivity  

A range of new measures were put in place to increase productivity and not let the social distancing measures cause a backlog on workload. “50% workforce reduction but only 30% reduction in output” “with the productivity and the new ways of thinking we believe we only need 7 ½ people to do the same as 10 people”  

Factors seen as contributing to this improvement included:  

  • Better and more detailed task planning  
  • More space, fewer people, and less overlap of trades in the workplace improves gang/task productivity  
  • Better planning by workers e.g. preparation of workplaces retools and materials – Less double handling of materials 
  • Fewer people ‘hanging around’ waiting to start work/tasks  
  • More streamlined worker flow due to workers staggering their start times, reducing the need to queue for site access or changing rooms 
  • People chatting less (due to distancing, one-way walkways, etc), less talking on phones  
  • On one site there was a perception that those who had returned to the site were the more motivated workers, the ‘team-players’  
  • Some workers may also have been enthusiastic and energised at returning to work after furlough 

As an overall result, if there are any benefits we can take from these unprecedented times, it’s that we’ve got more productive and safer ways of working 

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Resources: 

1.) Morgan Sandall Construction 

2.) Loughborough University