CEO of Sisk reveals how Covid-19 has changed construction industry

CEO of Sisk reveals how Covid-19 has changed construction industry
Stephen Bowcott, CEO of John Sisk & Son, says the Covid-19 crisis seriously affected the construction industry. Picture: Larry Cummins.

Steve Bowcott, CEO of John Sisk & Son, one of Ireland's biggest construction firms, has said that one of the main issues arising after the construction industry's return to work is the potential decline in productivity due to the two-metre social distancing rule.

He also said ensuring employee's mental well-being after the effects of the pandemic was paramount. 

"In some areas, productivity is back to normal, resources are back to 95% of norm, but we have to measure the productivity, some of the trades are really suffering because of the two metres, so that's something we are working on to see can we make it better." 

Mr Bowcott was speaking at a PwC webcast with Dan O'Sullivan, the Managing Director of Maryborough House Hotel in Cork, Ciara Fallon, People & Organisation Consulting Director at PwC and David McGee, Markets & Strategy Partner at PwC.

He said that out of the 5,000 staff who work on their sites in Ireland, they only had four Covid cases.

Mr Bowcott said that Sisk had an advantage when developing back to work protocols because they worked in Sweden, Holland and the UK.

"Standard operating procedures were in place because each of those countries continued to work through the crisis. 

"So we brought the learnings from that back to the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), and with the five major contractors in Ireland, we put together a standard operating procedure, took it to the government, the trade unions and the supply chain, and due to fantastic work by everybody, within three weeks we had total agreement on the way back to work. 

"Before [employees] are allowed to go on site, each and every person has to go through offsite induction, to ensure they understand operating method.

"170,000 [people] have linked into the CIF website [course] to allow them to pass the Covid-19 induction process, and they get a little certificate.

"When they come to site then, we have special PPE if they have to work under two metres, if it's over two metres there's different PPE.

"The canteens are all one way, we have closed down a lot of the food facilities."

Thermal imaging to check for high temperature is done onsite. If someone has a high temperature they vacate the site for the day, they are taken for immediate testing, and the site is cleared and all accommodation areas are deep cleaned.

"I've only been back in Ireland five years, and I've seen a transformation in the quality of safety in construction in Ireland. Everybody has made an massive effort, that's from the smallest contractors up to the majors," says Mr Bowcott.

"The health and safety executives have to ensure they visit sites regularly, now I know they have stepped up their resources, and also quite frankly I think the public have a part to play here as well. 

"The public can pick up the phone and ring the health and safety executives if they don't see the right activities being carried out on the construction site. That would be welcome as well."

Mr Bowcott says that another main issue arising is how people get to work. 

CEO of Sisk reveals how Covid-19 has changed construction industry
Stephen Bowcott, CEO of John Sisk & Son, has said Covid-19 has challenged the construction industry.

"The easy bit funnily enough has been the practical issues of thermal imaging, two metres distancing... the biggest issue still is how we get people from home to the place of work, [especially] on public transport.

"We have issues washable masks and gloves to every member of staff, and we are encouraging them [to wear them]. We will have to talk to the environmental agencies, and ask can we work shift patterns, can the buses run more frequently, can we run slightly longer hours.

"We are already speaking with private transport companies to see can we get more people to site safer.

"At the moment everyone has responded fantastically well, by trying to keep to one or two people in a car from the same household." 

Employee well-being was also a key topic of discussion, with employers worried about the effect of the pandemic on their employee's mental health and resilience. 

"In terms of mental health, what we are doing now is having one to ones with employees coming back, make sure their mental health and well-being is good, because they have been isolated so long, they have been out of a social environment, they have been out of a work environment," said Mr Bowcott.

"[We aim to] understand what's happening in their family, if they [know anyone who] died from Covid. In our company, out of the 5,000 staff who work on our sites in Ireland, we only had four serious and notifiable [Covid] positives, two ended up in hospital, but thankfully no one has passed away.

"I think it's been a credit to the industry."

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