Combating Covid-19 in Construction

CIF Communications Director, Shane Dempsey, speaks about behavioural science, in relation to the Covid-19 Pandemic. 

The CIF had the pleasure of hearing from Professor Pete Lunn of the ESRI. Prof Lunn is a leading pioneer of behavioural science in Ireland and is on NPHET’s sub-committee on behavioural science. In other words, he’s at the forefront of research into how, we as individuals and a population are responding to Covid-19 for good or ill.

What follows is a summation of the four key insights he’s gleaned from several studies carried out since the pandemic arrived on these shores. I’ve tried to bake in insights for construction industry leaders from this discussion in the next few paragraphs.

The four key insights are:

  1. Young men (under 40) underestimate the level of risk behind the advice given by authorities including employers.
  2. Young men are less likely to report symptoms including secondary symptoms meaning they can be highly infectious and asymptomatic onsite.
  3. Reminders are essential but they need to be varied otherwise they become background noise.
  4. Young people appear more concerned about giving rather than getting Covid.

I’ll give a little more detail on each of these insights for construction companies as we enter into a new phase of Covid-19 mitigation measures. The angle of attack of the virus has changed after the Government’s gradual relaxation of some measures. Now the focus for construction companies should be to reduce the likelihood of ‘importing’ Covid-19 onto sites and minimising any spread when it does inevitably arise.

  1. Interestingly Professor Lunn stated that we as a population understand fairly well the risks and how to avoid spreading Covid-19. However, men under 40 mis-perceive the level of risk associated with Covid-19.  Specifically, their perception of risk between being indoors and outdoors and the importance of time of exposure / potential exposure is significantly lower than the rest of the population. With a largely young male work force; construction companies need to reinforce the message that social distancing is critical at all time but also time exposed to other people needs to be minimised particularly indoors.
  2. Young men are less likely to call a GP when they have symptoms – particularly secondary symptoms. This is extremely worrying        because young people are more likely to be asymptomatic yet infectious. The medical advice is that people, even without the trademark cough and sore throat, should report symptoms even if they are secondary.  Young men appear to ‘wait and see’ if symptoms develop and this is the very time that when people are most infectious. Generally, people recognise the symptoms but are slow at responding. The construction industry should reinforce the message not to come to work if you demonstrate any flu like symptoms. Also, ensure to advise that the GP consultation (by phone) and the test are all free – no charge. Many people think that they will be charged for tests which is not the case.
  3. Reminders. Reminder. Reminders. They work. Especially strong are verbal reminders. So make sure your Covid Compliance Officers are vocal. Companies should raise awareness by changing posters regularly, internal communications and asking workers if they are well / have they washed their hands recently. Most importantly, if you make compliance easy, people are more likely to comply – e.g. if hand sanitising units are in the middle of a walkway, people are more likely to use rather than if they are off to the side.
  4. Teams are an excellent crucible to promote positive behaviours. Construction companies should utilise their existing teams to promote and reinforce positive behaviours. Peter Lunn’s research has shown that most people are more concerned about giving rather than getting Covid-19. This means that reinforcing the message that conforming to the CIF’s Standard Operating Procedure and HSE advice actually protects your teammates, colleagues, your family, communities and your industry in addition to yourself is vital.

The likelihood is that we will see more clusters emerge in the coming weeks as relaxation at a national level recurs. It’s vital that our industry retains its leadership position in tackling the pandemic. This was achieved through the excellent work of CIF members and individual companies being incredibly committed to the safety of their employees.

Together, as ever, we will overcome this challenge.

Professor Lunn will deliver a webinar in partnership with CIF in early August on this subject. Details will follow. If you are a construction company, please visit www.cif.ie to access our Standard Operating Procedure, an updated version will be published in the coming days, and download our back to work resource pack.

Stay Safe.


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