In those places where the building industry remains open for business in the time of COVID-19, legislatures must develop contagion amelioration protocols to keep workers safe and healthy. And these protocols must be put into law and enforced.

Many construction workers are independent contractors, which means they must work to live. Yet they also must practice social distancing to stay healthy.

There exists in standing Building Acts certain regulations that can help with both missions.

We must set best practice building industry pandemic control protocols by code, facilitate their uniform adoption, and utilise human resources to educate, monitor and enforce.

Building inspectors and building surveyors should join representatives from Occupational Health & Safety (‘OHS’) government agencies, which are overworked and overstressed at this point, to train workers regarding intensive safety protocols; so needed in an industry in which large groups of workers are required to work in large groups and tight spaces.

Serving on this administrative help team should be government officials, contractor and subcontractor stakeholders, trade unions, expert lawyers, epidemiologists, doctors, and law enforcers.

Key stakeholders must come to agreement regarding best practices. The greater good must be paramount, lowering risk and danger as much as possible and supporting the economy as much as possible.

Building acts are enacted to ensure safe building outcomes.

Building acts guarantee essential services maintenance and the upholding of technical codes. Oversight powers are already in place, but they must be modified and enforced in order to be effective. Uniform compliance must be mandated via prescriptive regulations (via legislative amendment) or Ministerial Orders.

Alberta Canada is a proactive jurisdiction in this area, as The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) has published a pandemic planning guide of best practices, which covers site management, equipment sanitizing, meeting restriction, and a shift in lunch time procedures, cleaning protocols, and the isolation of ill workers. Workers must stand 6 feet away from one another, workloads must be adjusted to suit the times, etc. And employees who don’t follow the rules will be sent home. Many of these practices are also in place across Australia and New Zealand. 

Protocols must be holistic, multi-faceted, and complete in order to be effective. Laws must be researched and strong in language, and must be enforced at all times and under all conditions.

Aside from health risks, the failure to produce and enforce these strict codes may result in legal action. This is why strong and holistic regulations must apply. 

A form and framework must be in place for such tough laws to be established. This will not be much of a problem in developed nations, where regulatory apparatueses are in place. But strong and concrete laws must follow.

First and foremost among these are Ministerial Orders, rules that can be enacted quickly with no need for parliamentary ratification, by power of the minister. The Australian state of Tasmania enacts ministerial orders more broadly than other jurisdictions in the building sphere. The Australian State of NSW is applying public health Ministerial Orders to the introduction of new anti-contagion protocols.

Templates and gazettes should be made of best practices in all parts of the world, as well as the regulations that govern them.

This will save times and lives.

And above all, these laws must be enforced. The actions of workers must be monitored and regulated throughout the building process, and regular inspections must be conducted. Enforcement, day in and day out, is the only thing that will see us through.

The Australian State of NSW is ahead of the curve, as dual-qualified health and building surveyors are ready to be deployed for immediate anti-pandemic compliance inspections.

Leading infectious disease expert Professor Dale Fisher, an Australian who is the Singapore Chair of WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, advises that inspectors should be retrained in safety measures, and should be paid extra for their efforts at investigating pandemic protocol compliance inspections. And their efforts should be backed up and enforced by government agencies.

And even as they leave, workers must undergo site departure protocols that include the use of sanitiser and decontamination equipment; along with a sanitisation period before their entry onto a new worksite. In that way, they help to ensure their own health and safety, the well-being of their families, and the wellness of the building industry as a whole.