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Some construction activities, including renovations, to resume from June 2 in ‘controlled manner’ in Singapore

Construction workers wearing masks in precaution of the coronavirus outbreak carry pipes as they pass a building in the Central Business District in Singapore on February 18, 2020. Photo: Today. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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SINGAPORE, May 16, 2020, Today. Some construction activities will resume after the circuit breaker ends on June 1, said the inter-agency task force looking into the spread of Covid-19 among migrant workers on Friday (May 15), Today Online reported.

The stay-home notices for migrant workers staying outside purpose-built dormitories will also not be extended past its expiry date on May 19, though the circuit breaker measures will still apply to them, said Manpower Ministry permanent secretary and task force chairman Aubeck Kam.

This applies to workers and their dependents who are living in factory-converted dormitories, temporary construction quarters as well as those residing in private residential and Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats. They have been serving their stay-home notices since April 20.

Speaking at a media briefing, Building and Construction Authority (BCA) chief executive Hugh Lim said the resumption of construction work from June 2 includes projects that cannot be left idle due to safety or time-sensitive reasons, as well as previously suspended residential renovation works.

The move will likely double the number of construction workers who are currently working on a small number of critical infrastructure projects. This number currently stands at 20,000.

Another 20,000 workers, or 5 per cent of the construction workforce, will be allowed to return to work as a result of this gradual restart, said Mr Lim.

These workers must be tested for Covid-19 first and the resumption of works will require approval by the BCA depending on whether the employers can ensure a safe restart in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, he added.

“A Covid-safe workforce is critical to a successful restart of the construction sector. Employers will be required to demonstrate that they are able to meet the criteria before they are allowed to restart,” said Mr Lim.

The criteria include putting in place a system that allows employers to track the health of their workers on a daily basis as well as regular Covid-19 tests for workers.

“Employers must be able to manage their workers’ social interactions in the living spaces or elsewhere,” he said.

This means that employers should ensure “safe cohorting” of workers, such as by separating their accommodation based on the construction projects they are involved in.

Dedicated transport should also be catered for between the worksites and the workers’ accommodation while ensuring that they sit at safe distances from each other during the ride, said Mr Lim.

If the transport of workers is in an open air setting, such as in the back of a lorry, the capacity will be halved.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, in a media conference following the briefing, said authorities are also looking at whether to resume renovation projects, noting that the scale of the works is “completely different” from building construction sites.

The authorities may consider resuming such work if contractors can ensure that the resumption can be done safely, including the housing, work arrangements and transport of workers, under the new set of Covid-safe rules, he said in response to a question about home renovation works.

Other measures that should be undertaken by employers include:

  • Supervision: Employers are to appoint safe management officers to help implement these safety rules across the worksite.
  • Education and information: All employees will have to undergo an induction on safe distancing measures before they can enter the worksite. Posters and infographics in native languages are needed to remind employees and keep them updated on measures and importance of personal hygiene.
  • Use of automation: Technology-enabled processes to facilitate effective tracking and compliance, such as the use of SafeEntry, can be used in specific zones of the worksite. Solutions can include automated checks for workers and their health status, and automated alerts if workers spend too much time in close proximity with other workers.
  • Reduced interaction: Employers have to ensure reduced physical interaction and safe distancing at the worksites. They should set out clear roles and responsibilities for all and impose staggered timings for breaks.
  • No cross-deployment: Teams of workers, which should be visually identifiable, will be restricted to working within a single zone. Workers performing different activities should also be segregated. No cross-deployment interaction is allowed between employees in different shifts, teams or worksites.
  • Enhanced personal hygiene: Employers will have to provide individually packed meals with personal tableware for each worker. The use of personal protective equipment such as masks will be required at the worksite at all times. The sharing of work tools between workers should be discouraged
  • Stepped-up cleanliness: More frequent disinfection of high-use shared facilities, with natural ventilated rest areas and adequate hand washing stations around the worksite.

Mr Lim said that there will be an audit and inspection process to ensure compliance at these resumed project worksites, adding that the criteria are still being developed to greater detail by BCA as well as industry associations.

The authorities are also working through the list of projects to restart, which includes HDB Build-to-Order flats on the “priority list” to be restarted, he added.

More details about the criteria for restarting construction work will be given next week, he said.

In response to a question on cross-deployment, the BCA chief said that due to the prevalent practice of cross-deployment in the sector, he expects that only a small number of projects will be permitted to restart initially.

Zoning and having separate shifts will help in preventing interactions between different deployments of workers, he said.

“We recognise that this is possible because the ones that are cross-deployed are usually subcontractors and they typically only come in (to the worksite) for a certain period of time,” said Mr Lim.

Added Mr Kam: “We are releasing these safe management requirements now so that companies have time to prepare their workplaces. Even if the workers are free from infection, companies cannot let them go back to work until they have safe measures in the workplace.”

Mr Wong reiterated the need to do so in a “controlled manner”.

“We have a list of projects we have identified, these are mainly critical and time sensitive ones, it is on the basis of the merits of the project, it’s on the basis on whether the contractor is ready and has the safeguards in place, even if the project is meritorious,” said Mr Wong, who is also the co-chair of the multi-ministry task force leading Singapore’s response to Covid-19.

NO ‘BIG PARTY’ WHEN CIRCUIT BREAKER ENDS

Responding to queries from the media on whether the small number of cases in the community in recent weeks means the virus curve has been flattened here, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said Singaporeans should remain cautious as the lowered numbers are largely due to the strict circuit breaker measures that have been put in place.

“We have to bear in mind that today, the community cases are low primarily because of the security measures that we have put in place.

“So as we restart the economy, allow more people to return to work and allow more activities to resume, we have to be very careful because if we are not careful, the number of cases will spike up and we may have big clusters forming again,” said Mr Gan, who was also present at the multi-ministry taskforce conference.

This is why the authorities need to take a “step-by-step approach” when easing some of these measures, said Mr Gan, and Singaporeans have to remain vigilant even after the circuit breaker ends next month.

“I know June 1 is approaching very quickly and there is a great expectation among Singaporeans on what will happen after… We are not going to have a big party.

“It is still a very tight situation where we need to continue to impose many of the circuit breaker measures to ensure that our number of cases don’t spike up,” he said.

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