The first to respond

Contractors are often the first to step up in a disaster. Some of you may have seen images from China of sites covered in hundreds of excavators, preparing the ground for emergency hospital builds in the face of the Coronavirus. By CCNZ CEO Peter Silcock

Closer to home, the Kaikoura earthquake response was amazing. As the State Highway rebuild project winds up, I can’t help but think about how many lives our industry touched in getting the transport and water networks up and running again.

Contractors were there to replace the washed out Waiho Bridge on the West Coast in 2019, restoring a vital transport link in just 18 days, to reduce the impact of the Nelson fires, and to repair a road undermined by a major slip that made the Central North Island town of Raetihi near-inaccessible.

This is an industry makes a difference where and when it really matters.

But business resilience is another thing entirely. Is your business resilient enough to withstand a magnitude eight earthquake, the collapse of a big client or a case of coronavirus amongst your staff? Dealing with these things effectively can mean having a contingency plan as well as being ready for action.

Take Coronavirus. From my perspective, it produces two major challenges for members. The first is a business challenge around supply costs and interruptions as well as supply times for resources like steel, plant and safety supplies like dust masks. If a building site runs out of handrails, that’s a hassle because work can’t be completed. If it runs out of steel, work may not even be able to begin.

The other is a challenge around people. It comes from reduced employee availability through increased self-isolation due to illness and the potential exposure to those that have the illness like family members.

There is also the issue of potential measures around reduced travel and gatherings of people that can impact on workplaces and the availability of people. In civil construction most of our staff don’t have the opportunity to work from home. Absent people can also impact on suppliers.

Most projects are time-bound by contract construction schedules. Keeping in touch with suppliers and clients to check for any disruptions and confirm what would happen in the case of project delays caused by these factors can make a lot of difference.

I especially recommend touching base with your suppliers every now and again to check how they are impacted. This will give you enough warning to plan to deal with delays or shortages rather than reacting to them when they happen.

Resilience planning is never straightforward. There are so many scenarios you could plan for. As with most aspects of civil construction, assessing and understanding risk is critical.

In the case of natural disasters, contractors plan not just for themselves but also for their involvement in community response and recovery. In these situations, backup fuel and power supplies, mobile communications and logistics are vital.

As for people, we all know our teams are capable of remarkable things. Like in Kaikoura, where people moved away from their homes, sometimes for months at a time, and worked extended shifts to make sure the community could get up and running again.

In this case, planning meant allowing workers to take initiative, but also looking after those who had put in the hard yards. Having a plan for how to keep your team happy and healthy for when they are working at full capacity or responding to a disaster is important too.

For businesses who want to know more about disaster and emergency relief planning, the AF8 programme may be of interest. It projects the impacts of a magnitude 8 earthquake on the South Island’s alpine fault using scientific modelling and community response planning. As well as hosting plenty of resources for businesses to be able to understand and plan for risk, AF8 is holding a roadshow across 14 South Island centres, which will carry on until May.

Construction Health and Safety New Zealand has published toolbox talk information businesses can use to talk to staff about coronavirus, and we have a coronavirus business continuity planning template available as a free download for members on our website member benefits portal.

While seismic events and pandemics may be beyond our control, CCNZ works to help businesses deal with more common resilience challenges around employment, technical issues and contract management.

If members are experiencing adverse working conditions or unfair contract terms through disaster events like Coronavirus, we want to hear about it.

Make sure you get in touch if there’s something you’d like to see in this space, or you want our support.

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