Protocols key to keeping construction working

13 Sep 2021

While most of the New Zealand’s construction industry returned to work under Alert Level 3, Auckland waits with bated breath to see whether they will be able to do the same next week.


The return to work under Alert Level 3 saw thousands of construction businesses outside of Auckland breathe a sigh of relief last week. This was made possible by assurance to the government that the industry was able to do so safely and without increasing the risks of on-site Covid-19 transmission, by following the Covid-19 construction protocols.

The first lockdown last year saw vertical and commercial businesses in the construction industry combine to form a steering group, with Site Safe playing a key role, to develop the Covid-19 construction protocols. This set of documents lays out the processes that construction businesses must adhere to under the different Alert Levels.

It's not a pure science, however. Brett Murray, Site Safe Chief Executive, says that the protocols are changing in tune with the nature of working in Covid-19.

"We updated the Alert Level 3 protocols in the most recent lockdown, and are in the process of updating the protocols for Alert Levels 1 and 2. It's done in live time because we're constantly applying our learnings and seeing what we can improve on from last time."

Though some construction work – such as emergency repairs and critical infrastructure projects – continued under Alert Level 4 conditions, there were no protocols written for last year's lockdown.

Site Safe, along with the same industry steering group have combined this year to develop the first iteration of the Alert Level 4 protocols, applying learnings from last year along with extra challenges brought by the new Covid-19 variants to map out the procedures for those working at the highest level of Covid-19 risk.

Pete Lockhart, Naylor Love Construction General Manager, says the key to the protocols' success is a combination of health and safety expertise from the industry along with Site Safe's practical knowledge of the industry, particularly education, helping to create a document that is easy to understand and apply.

"It has been fantastic to see the cooperation from all parts of our industry. All those involved have worked to ensure the document works for everyone and we're proud to be part of the discussion and its creation. Having people on the front lines involved means the results are more practical and can be more easily implemented on-site.

"Under the higher Alert Levels, working on-site is quite different to what we'd normally see, but the extra effort is more than worth it when you consider the alternatives available.

"At the end of the day, keeping our workers safe as well as others they interact with under these conditions is paramount. We can use the protocols to do this, while maintaining the ability of businesses in construction to stay working."

Brett Murray agrees that ensuring workers can undertake their jobs safely is the number one priority of the industry, and believes the risks posed by Covid-19 on-site can be self-managed if the industry adhere to the protocols.

"Ultimately we want to add certainty to the equation. Construction businesses want to know that they will be able to work next month, and the month after that, and so on.

"If we continue to fine tune the protocols and make sure they are relevant and up to date, we can ensure that our workers are safe and that the industry stands a better chance of staying at work through Alert Level changes."

Bringing representatives of the industry together to assist in the creation and refinement of the protocols has resulted in strong uptake and a better understanding of what is required, says Murray.

"It's motivating to see the industry actively participating in this. We need the universal buy-in to really adhere to these protocols. Having the likes of Master Builders, CHASNZ, and other key players get involved serves to increase this buy-in and will help to keep construction moving."