Returning to work with COVID-19 level 3 protocols

Many businesses in our sector have been able to return to work this week after the government lowered the COVID-19 Alert Level from four to three. However, returning to the worksite comes with several new health and hygiene protocols to prevent the transmission of COVID-19

Contractors will need to ensure they comply with all health and safety obligations, including the strict hygiene measures and social distancing rules put in place under Alert Level 3.

We've outlined how your business can navigate through the restrictions set out by Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ), who have developed standards and protocols to secure the health and safety of workers on site.

Your business should consider the following points:

Businesses COVID-19 safety plan

Under Alert Level 3, a business must have a COVID-19 safety plan that identifies and mitigates the risks associated with carrying out contract work.

  • Have you read and understood the Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ) standards and protocols?

  • Have you developed a COVID-19 safety plan? When developing the plan, you should take into account the CHASNZ standards. The COVID-19 safety plan should sit alongside other H&S plans you have in operation, and ensure the plans don't contradict each other

  • Have all employees read and understood your COVID-19 safety plan?

  • Do your employees have access to the correct personal protective equipment (PPE)?

  • Operating under Alert Level 3 will require physical distancing, good hygiene and cleaning practices. All businesses and contractors should consult with workers on an ongoing basis to find out what is working well, what isn't and develop a response to anything thing that requires changing. Engaging with workers and assessing risks and developing responses is an important part of a business's health and safety practice. How are you evaluating the COVID-19 safety plan?

  • Workers who are feeling unwell or suffering symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19 MUST NOT come into contact with other workers until they are well or have been tested and cleared from having COVID-19. Does your business have a system in place to track the health of its workers?

  • Businesses must develop a plan that will allow contact tracing in the event a worker is exposed to a person who is suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19. Registers are required to be kept of all people that workers have contact with during the day. Does your business have a register in place, and is it collecting the required information?

Contractors health and safety plan

Under Alert Level 3, your business is required to have a written COVID-19 safety plan in place to identify and mitigate the risks associated with carrying out the contract works. The Principal, Contractor and Engineer should collaborate, with input from subcontractors when required, to determine the safest way to return to the worksite while achieving the government's health objectives under Alert Level 3.

  • Has the Contractor prepared a site-specific COVID-19 safety plan (SSSP)?

  • Has the Contractor submitted the SSSP to the Engineer?

Engineer's responsibilities

If the Engineer suspended work during Alert Level 4, or the Principal and the Contractor agreed to suspend the work, it may be necessary for the Engineer to lift the suspension.

  • If the Engineer had suspended the works during Alert Level 4, has the suspension been lifted to allow the Contractor access to the worksite

  • Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, the Engineer, the Principal and the Contractor share health and safety duties. One of those duties is for the Engineer to 'consult, cooperate and coordinate' with the Contractor to avoid any potential gaps in managing the spread of COVID-19 and to help prevent businesses from failing to carry out their health and safety duties.

  • Where to the reasonable extent of the Engineer's expertise and experience, has the Engineer commented on the Contractor's SSSP?

  • Has the Principal reviewed the Contractor's health and safety plan?

Assisting cashflow

Cashflow is the lifeblood of the construction industry and to ensure businesses survive the effects of COVID-19, cash must flow from Principals through to subcontractors. While the April payment cycle probably was unaffected by the lockdown, the May cycle will be profoundly affected as construction activity came to a halt for 16 working days. Some Principals may be able to assist the long-term viability of Contractors by agreeing to alternative cashflow arrangements. Public sector guidance is available for dealing with the contractual implications for construction projects during the COVID-19 lockdown.

  • Has the Engineer discussed with the Principal moving the monthly payment cycle to either weekly or fortnightly? This change would require additional work by the Engineer in processing the payment claim but would allow cash to flow more quickly to those in need, predominantly subcontractors.

The Principal could consider other options to help cashflow for Contractors if alternative forms of protection can be provided to secure the Contractor's performance in the event of a default. These include releasing retentions and suspending the collection of retentions.

  • Consistent with the public sector guidance, the Ministry of Education has taken the step of releasing retentions and suspending the collection of retentions. Any such relief provided to the Contractor must be passed to the subcontractors. To ensure this happens, a form of agreement with the Contractor may be required. Has the Engineer discussed with the Principal alternative steps to help facilitate cashflow?

Visiting a site

Under the Health and Safety Act 2015, a PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its employees at work. An Engineer who visits a worksite must be aware of their health and safety obligations under Alert Level 3, along with the employer's and the Contractor's health and safety plans.

  • In addition to the normal PPE an Engineer is required to wear on-site, does the Contractor require any additional PPE?

  • Has the Engineer read and understood the Contractor's SSSP before visiting the site?

  • Does the Engineer understand the Contractor's social distancing requirements, including when using the site's facilities and amenities?

  • What system does the Contractor have in place to facilitate contact tracing by recording the identity of all workers on site and who they come into contact with?

  • Is the Engineer aware of the need to keep a register of all people that they have come into contact with while carrying out a site visit?

  • Has the Engineer recorded what areas they have visited on the site, including taking photographs of any deterioration of the contract works that are readily visible? It is important following Alert Level 4 lockdown that careful records are taken of any areas of the building that may have suffered damage.

  • Has the Engineer observed any health and safety issues and if so, have they been reported to the Contractor. If the Engineer feels unsafe on-site, then they are to leave immediately and report their concerns to both the Contractor and their Employer.

In addition to the CHASNZ standard and protocols, Worksafe has examples that will help increase physical space between people to avoid spreading COVID-19.

We are grateful to our friends at Te Kāhui Whaihanga New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) for allowing us to adapt their resources when developing this blog post.