Interview with an Approved Certifier about working on site during the COVID-19 pandemic
A guest post from SNIPEF and approved certifier Lee Paterson of James Paterson Plumbing and Heating Ltd about returning to work on site.
Tell us about your business
We are a family run business which was started by my father in 1987. We started off with three staff and now employ 96 people. We have four directors, seven office staff, 65 tradesmen and 20 apprentices. We carry out our work in the east and west of Scotland and cover all aspects of plumbing and heating works in new build properties.
How have you been affected by coronavirus?
When lockdown started almost everyone was put on furlough with the exception of myself, another director, our accountant and an emergency plumber. Throughout lockdown there has been a lot of uncertainty, but we’ve kept in touch with all staff members as much as we could to ensure they knew what was going on. We’ve also had the worry of whether or not we’d receive payments that were due from clients and when we’d receive the furlough payments. After 10 1/2 weeks we managed to start a phased return for some of our staff.
What preparations did you make for returning to work?
We had to prepare method statements and risk assessments to suit COVID 19 which have been issued to all staff. We also purchased the appropriate PPE, which consisted of face masks, disposable gloves, safety glasses, sanitiser and wipes. The men also had to complete an induction before being allowed on site and emails were sent to them with information regarding their return to work.
What changes have you seen since being back on site?
There have been a lot of changes. There are now mobile hand washing stations on site, there are one-way systems in operation, new sign in process which is now electronic, new procedures for working in properties and there is now limited canteen and toilet facilities.
All of these new procedures are being adhered to but they definitely have taken a bit of getting used to by everyone.
What new measures are in place to help people work safely?
The changes I’ve mentioned have all ensured that all employees can work safely.
The mobile hand washing stations mean all employees can sanitise their hands as often as they want. The one-way systems and electronic sign in system work well as they restrict the amount of contact people have with each other.
The number of tradesmen working in a property or using the canteen or toilets has also been restricted to ensure people are kept at a suitable distance.
There has also been a change with site meetings. These are now done by either a Team or Zoom call online.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge about the ‘new normal’?
It’s obviously been hard to change everyone’s mindset to the new way of working but I am really impressed with how everyone has adapted to the new situations.
My main concern now is for our apprentices. All 20 of them are still on furlough and have been since 24 March. My worry is that for a lot of them it’s going to be like starting again. There’s a real concern regarding this and I think that there should be some thought to extending their apprenticeships.
When they do return to work on site, all apprentices under the age of 18 will have to be accompanied by their tradesman at all times.
How are you feeling about the future?
Almost all of our work is new build houses. There is a lot of uncertainty there just now. The information I am getting just now is that house sales are going well. My worry is that it only costs a couple of hundred of pound to put down a deposit and that’s all they will lose if it falls through. So even though builders are saying they’ve got a sale at the moment, all they really have is a deposit.
We are all in this together and have to work as a team to get through this. Communication is going to be the key.