Eyewitness: Australian construction and COVID-19

02 April 2020

Tim Nuttall, Managing Director of Access Hire in Australia, has written the following account of what is happening in Australia’s construction and rental sectors following the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I am sure we are like you – the picture is changing daily.

”We had our first positive test on a construction site four days ago. We thought a positive test on a site would result in a 14-day shut down. That didn’t happen. The site shut for one day, they isolated 20 people who had been in contact, decontaminated everything and went back to work. That was encouraging for us that construction will continue.


Tim Nuttall, Managing Director, Access Hire.

“The major construction companies and the key building unions (CFMEU, ETU and others) are working very closely together to keep the construction industry running.

“On sites, additional portable buildings have been shipped in to provide extra space in lunchrooms, and they are staggering meal and coffee breaks (known as a ‘smoko’ here) to limit numbers. They are also considering moving to shift work (three shifts) to further reduce exposure.

“As a rental business we are implementing Zero Contact policies. That means not swapping pens to obtain signatures on delivery dockets and de-contaminating all controllers, keypads and handrails on machines. Service calls for routine service - 90-day servicing - have stopped. Machine breakdown requires the unit to be isolated on site, so that service technicians have minimal contact with site personnel.

“Australia is on Stage 3 restrictions, which means only leave your home for essential work, shopping for food or health supplies. The beaches are closed. No more than two people are allowed to congregate, other than family members living in the same house.

“The Political structure in Australia is based on the Federal Government controlling a range of things like a tax, but health is run by the States and Territories. A National Cabinet has been formed to coordinate the response nationwide, but it has varied legal authority. It still reverts to the States to implement a lot of the restrictions. Generally, there is a uniform approach. Overall, our governments are doing an outstanding job given the circumstances.

“There is a strong will to keep construction running in Australia. The construction industry and related businesses represent about 1.4 million people in the workforce, which is 14% more than manufacturing and retail combined.

“The Government sees the construction industry as the road to recovery on the other side of this virus. They are concerned if construction closes it will take a long time to get moving again. Like Germany – as I read in KHL’s reports - our Government it is tendering for new and additional work now, so it is ready to go as soon as the restrictions are lifted.

“Stay safe. We are thinking of you all over there!”


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