Sending more than 2500 staff safely back on the tools in the midst of pandemic driven uncertainty, is a daunting undertaking, but an impressive collaboration between, Auckland Transport (AT) and it’s construction partners, guided by industry health and safety body, CHASNZ achieved just this.
April 28, 2020 saw AT’S closed down projects remobilise across Auckland under COVID-19 alert Level 3 restrictions. The smooth roll out of the restart belies the many hours of work over the five-week lockdown period which enabled each site to develop and implement its’ own project restart plan, prioritising the safety of both workers and the general public.
Although a huge amount of work involved occurred in the latter half of the Level 4 lock down period, after CHASNZ guidelines were released on April 16, for many projects, while unprecedented, a lockdown wasn’t unexpected and a significant part of their preparation began before it was enforced.
The Downtown Infrastructure Development Programme, with nearly 200 workers across six projects on Auckland’s Downtown Waterfront, had COVID-19 on its radar for several weeks and began to work in earnest on the restart plan just over a week before the country went into lock down.
Programme Director, Eric van Essen and the Downtown Joint Venture construction team made up of Downer NZ, HEB Construction and Soletanche Bachy were watching overseas developments with a growing sense of urgency.
“We saw the writing on the wall, we had COVID in our risk register and had begun taking social distancing and hygiene measures in our office. About a week before the lockdown appeared imminent we began making plans."
“We planned to make the sites safe, reviewed all our staff rosters to ensure resilience of resourcing (if someone got sick) and we shifted office staff to work from home. We also began to identify roster groups that we could create into bubbles and began researching how to implement social distancing both in the office and on site.”
The AMETI Eastern Busway team, led by Project Director, Norm Collier also took the initiative early, trialling a number of social distancing protocols a week before the lock down came into effect.
“We shut the main office and sent people to work from home, segregated the teams, (which eventually formed the basis of our seven Level three work bubbles), and kept our different teams as isolated as possible. Although it was a dress rehearsal, it also revealed how difficult was to implement a social distancing programme and provided detail we might have not otherwise considered had we simply restarted after lock down.”
One of the advantages of the Downtown Programme’s Joint Venture structure proved to be its access to overseas COVID-19 protocols through its international construction team, giving the team a head start in developing their plan. Bruce Cullen, the Downtown Joint Venture Project Director, was able to draw on the broad ranging international experience of partners: HEB, whose parent company VINCI, is based in France, as is Soletanche Bachy and Downer, whose head office resides in Australia, where they were already operating under level three restrictions.
“We were inundated with information from organisations which had gone into lockdown or were operating at level three already. There was a good body of documentation with lessons learnt about safely remobilising sites. We were able to work through this and adapt to our circumstances in New Zealand without reinventing the wheel.”
The strength of this approach was reaffirmed when CHASNZ shared their industry guidelines.
“It was reassuring to see it confirming many of the protocols we were already putting into place. It really solidified our thinking to see it was in line with overseas guidelines”
In the lead up to the lockdown, CHASNZ, guided by CEO, Chris Alderson had also been watching closely and was quick to provide leadership under the duress of compressed time lines.
“Work on the guidance and protocols started on 25th March 2020. The COVID-19 level 3 standard exposure draft went out for consultation on 1 April 2020 and was complete a week later. The protocols were complete and issued to industry on 16th April 2020.”
“The approach to developing the standard and protocols was through industry wide collaboration. Special thanks should be given to Site Safe, Civil Contractors NZ, Master Builders, Vertical and Residential leadership groups and the many individuals who contributed their time and resources to developing the work. Without this fantastic volunteer army the construction industry would not have been able to put itself in the key position of being shovel ready when it came time to up tools again.”
A decisive factor in the speed and clarity CHASNZ was able to demonstrate came via the topdown leadership from the Construction Accord Steering Group (ASG) made up of 24 industry leaders and Government representatives including the likes of Fletcher CEO Peter Reidy, Downer NZ CEO Steve Killeen, and Ministry of Health Director General, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
“They adapted its role and essentially became the construction industry crisis management team, providing leadership that was needed for decisive decision making. They’ve been on the front foot rather than reactive. There’s been clarity of direction and consistency of messaging thanks to the ASG and the other collaborative work across the construction industry.”
The CHASNZ approach has been welcomed by contractors, like Fulton Hogan’s AMETI Project Manager, James Weller;
“They used their role as an industry body to effectively pull together contractor ideas and proactively raise issues, and gain consensus to produce guidelines which could be implement on site.”
Jon Harper-Slade, CHASNZ General Manager Health and Safety, summed up the approach;
“The idea was to provide clear boundaries and bench marks which had to be met, but not to be too prescriptive about how they were met. We understand each site is different and has unique challenges which need to be overcome.”
Having developed the guidelines, ensuring they were accessible to entire industry was critical. Auckland Transport took the leading role in ensuring the protocols were disseminated to its project teams and construction partners and CHASNZ became the central place to get most up to date information. All communications provided a link back to this central source and a number of webinars were held and videos were also produced and rolled out.
Karangahape Road’s Enhancement’s JFC Project Manager, Liam Thornley’s team appreciated having the information at his fingertips.
“Our health and safety manager worked with CHASNZ, through webinars, newsletters and other online tools to stay up to date. The key was we had early information on guidelines well spelt out and solidified, as well as regular updates to any changes.”
“We also had several internal meetings with AT, we emailed plans for review and discussed via video conference with their health and safety team. The focus was very much on being an open book making sure we were all on the same page sharing as much information as possible. AT, like CHASNZ was good at passing the latest information on it was very much a combined effort.”
Auckland Transport's Head of Health and Safety, Steve Saunders believes CHASNZ has been fundamental to the successful return to work for the construction sector.
“The industry hasn’t had the likes of CHASNZ previously, bringing resources together to align standards and agree on frame works. The COVID response had pulled people together really quickly. We’re all in same boat and it’s good to be rowing in the same direction.”
The proof of the pudding is always in the taste and after two weeks operating at level 3, AT’s project teams have uniformly complimented the clarity and the consistency of the COVID-19 messaging guidelines, singling out a high level of alignment between contractors, AT, CHASNZ, and Government messaging.
Despite the logistics of implementing new practices on site being difficult and a huge amount of information being relayed, there was a high level of buy in from returning workers who understood the guidelines were there to protect both their health and their jobs.
Van Essen is in no doubt about the crucial role of CHASNZ in the success of the collaboration with the wider AT and contractor partner’s joint effort.
“The information of this group was a master stroke which provided leadership, clarity and consistency across the industry. The CHASNZ forum created early guidance, laying a clear pathway forward allowing all contractors in NZ to leverage off and work with.
‘It’s gone smoothly. We’ve had to implement new COVID specific safety protocols across a complex site. The level of detail developed and care taken to ensure a safe working environment has been outstanding.”
CHASNZ has just released an updated version of the standard and protocols to capture the changes required for the transition to response Level 2.
The development of these resources were again made possible through a collaborative effort from organisations and individuals from across industry.
The updated resources for COVID-19 Response Level 2 can be found here: https://www.chasnz.org/covid19