"Health & Safety is not only about health and safety"

Most construction sites are continuing to operate even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Especially now, it is more important than ever to ensure safe working conditions. Many construction companies have their own departments for this purpose. Artur Stala, Health & Safety Manager at ISG for Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland, on the importance of health and safety in construction in times of crisis.

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ISG: Mr Stala, over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the German Employer's Liability Insurance Association for the Construction Industry (BG BAU) has concretised the federal occupational health and safety standard for the construction industry and produced various guidelines for action. One of these regulates hygiene on construction sites, for example. To what extent do the measures on ISG construction sites comply with the BG BAU requirements?

Artur Stala: The recommendations correspond to the minimum requirements we have on every construction site. Our measures go beyond this in some areas. It is very important for us that our subcontractors are satisfied and enjoy working on our construction sites. For example, we have newly furnished lunch rooms where staff can spend time and which are cleaned regularly. These have refrigerators, microwaves and coffee machines for staff to prepare their own food. We also provide food vans with free food.

If you offer such communal spaces, you must of course also make sure that they are used in a Covid-safe manner during the current times. We have increased the size of our common areas on all sites so that we can maintain the minimum social distancing requirement. We also achieve this by reducing the number of people crossing paths. All employees are regularly provided with a face mask. This may be worn for a maximum of 15 minutes if the minimum social distance cannot be maintained. We have introduced clocked working hours to reduce the total number of people on site and in the break rooms. In addition, we now clean and disinfect the construction sites daily. Every morning we take temperature measurements using a contactless laser. Anyone who shows even the slightest sign of illness must leave the construction site immediately. This has worked well: To date, we have not had a single case of Covid-19 on our construction sites in the whole of Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

ISG: How do you ensure the implementation of these measures on the construction site, especially with regard to subcontractors?

Artur Stala: We can't guarantee it, but we can create the framework conditions for it and check them regularly. On the big construction sites, I'm regularly there myself to keep an eye on things. The fact that things are going well is mainly due to raising awareness at an early stage: Health & Safety is an integral part of our onboarding process, including when entering into business relationships with new subcontractors. The staff know right from the start which standards they need to adhere to.

ISG: What sort of feedback do you get from ISG staff and partner companies? Are all measures accepted?

Artur Stala: My philosophy is: Health & Safety is not just about health and safety alone. The social aspect is a huge issue that I see clearly as being within my area of responsibility. I try to talk to everyone involved in our projects – from the cleaner to the client's project manager. The feedback so far has been very positive. Why? Because we communicate the meaning of our regulations to each individual and listen to their opinion. This may sound banal, but the strict regulations that apply currently have to be communicated.

ISG: Did you already have guidelines for employee health in the event of an epidemic before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic? If so, could they serve as a blueprint now?

Artur Stala: We had no such guidelines before. However, the Covid-19 pandemic did not come out of the blue for us. Due to the situation in Italy and even earlier in China, we had a head start and observed the steps and measures there very closely. For example, we realised very early on that there could be problems with ordering protective face masks and therefore reacted early and procured enough masks.

ISG: What new insights did you gain for your profession from the Covid pandemic?

Artur Stala: The most important thing I have learned from the crisis so far is how important communication is in my position. In times like these in particular, I have noticed that the employees have an increased need for communication and support and appreciate it very much when someone offers them a sympathetic ear. In the last few weeks, for example, when many people were in fact working from home, I regularly called the construction sites to talk to everyone – and sometimes not just about work. And my colleagues appreciate that.

ISG: Has the importance of Health & Safety in the company changed as a result?

Artur Stala: When my employees choose to work safely instead of having it forced on them, then I have achieved my goal. And that is exactly what I am observing at the moment: When I started my time at ISG six years ago, it is estimated that only 20 per cent of employees were doing this on their own initiative - today it is around 90 per cent. I notice this in my surveys and in the day-to-day activities. When there are problems, colleagues actively approach me to find solutions together. In Health & Safety, there is a danger of being regarded as a kind of policeman. I don't like working like that. I would rather be perceived as a colleague who wants to help others rather than impose something on them. I don't want everyone to run away when I arrive on the construction site. I'd much rather go for a beer or a coffee with them at the end of the day.

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