Impacts of COVID-19 on the Building and Construction Sector in Australia
A guest post from Neil Savery, Chief Executive, Australian Building Codes Board
In many respects the building and construction sector has fared better than most, as at no stage has it been subject to closure as part of any lockdown measures applied to date. This in part reflects the significance of its contribution to the national economy, some 9% of GDP and the second largest small business employer.
Nevertheless the economic impacts on the sector have been and are anticipated to be severe, with predictions that once current projects in the pipeline are completed, the contraction could be as great as 40%.
The nine Australian governments are extremely conscious of this and have been very proactive in looking at measures that can promote construction activity and keep work sites safe for workers and avoid them becoming a source of community spread.
In addition to the suite of personal hygiene and social distancing requirements, government actions include reducing red tape, freezing fees for approvals, the possible delay in the introduction of new regulations, stimulus packages for home building and investment in new public infrastructure, as well as bringing forward scheduled maintenance programs.
The governments have also been mindful that building site shut downs for any extended period of time may adversely affect some building structures if left exposed to weather for several weeks.
The sector itself has been very proactive in promoting COVID-19 safe work environments. An example is the Housing Industry Association’s Making Space on Site Guidelines, which have been posted on residential building sites around the country and focus on the core aspects of ensuring:
- the governments’ social distancing criteria are met
- the governments’ self-isolation rules are met
- adequate hygiene facilities are provided on site for all workers
- all workers have access to appropriate personal protective equipment
- minimise overlaps and numbers of people on site
- workers are updated and consulted on latest government requirements
The guidelines are produced in multiple languages and can be found at: https://hia.com.au/covid-19/managing-workplace-safety-and-employees-mental-health/making-space-on-site
Traceability mapping of workers is also being conducted by builders on large construction sites to assist in tracking individuals in the event of anyone testing positive.
All of this has been with a view to keeping construction sites open and the economy ticking, help maintain employment levels and avoid the need to go through a process of having to restart. To date it appears to have worked, with only a handful of individual construction sites having been closed for a period of time.
Importantly, during this period governments have not lost sight of the building regulation reform program that had already commenced ahead of COVID-19, to improve building outcomes and practitioner competencies following a similar road map to that set out by Dame Judith Hackitt in England and John Cole in Scotland.