The South African construction industry has recorded a 20% decline over the past 12 months due to Covid-19 disruption. This has meant that some companies have had to diversify their offerings, some have gone out of business, and others are continuing to weather the unprecedented storm. However, what remains more critical than ever before is the importance of health and safety which is in the spotlight this September, as the Federated Employer’s Mutual Assurance (FEM), rolls out its annual Safetember campaign.
Craig Behrmann, Sales Manager at local PPE company, G. Fox believes that globally, the construction industry has a poor health and safety record and South Africa is no exception, with many lives at risk. “Globally, it has been reported that approximately one in six fatal workplace accidents takes place in the construction sector. In 2019 alone the South African construction industry employed well over 1.3 million people, and with this in mind, their safety has to be top of mind for every construction business.”
Subsequently, Behrmann adds that the arrival of COVID-19 meant that businesses needed to add an extra layer of PPE to their inventories and to meet these needs, we had to quickly pivot to include these items to assist construction companies to be compliant with COVID-19 regulations.
“Historically we were in the business of supplying construction companies with traditional PPE, including hard hats and safety boots,” explains Behrmann. “However, this came to standstill when construction companies were not allowed to operate during the hard lockdown, and we still haven’t seen these numbers rebound. Luckily, we were ahead of the curve at the start of the pandemic, and this has kept our doors open.”
Protecting lives in more ways than one
“We experienced such a large demand for sanitisers and masks since the start of lockdown, in September 2020 we bought machinery to manufacture our own masks from our plant in Germiston,” says Behrmann. “This provided us with the opportunity to create much-needed jobs in a time where unemployment was rapidly increasing.”
As shipping came to a standstill, the company also began to manufacture its clothing locally as they were unable to procure stock from overseas.
Technology, a health and safety solution for all
To ensure the rest of the industry was protected, the sales team was hard at work ensuring local construction companies had the necessary PPE for safe operations. “Prior to COVID, we incorporated a field sales app called ‘Skynamo’ into our business, this assisted our sales reps to do their jobs, safely and remotely while having oversite of stock availability.”
“When the sales team started to visit customers again, we could also track their locations and that they had arrived at their destinations safely. The app also assisted them in managing their time effectively and efficiently between meetings and site visits,” adds Behrmann.
Safety vs the bottom line
Traditional PPE such as hardhats, overalls and boots need to be updated regularly to ensure workers are protected as much as possible on-site. “Unfortunately, as a result of the pandemic, we have seen these sales decline.”
In closing, Behrmann highlights that on the upside, construction holds huge potential to stimulate South Africa’s economic recovery, thanks to its potential to create jobs; and in turn, recovery measures can support the sector’s transformation towards digitalisation. “But irrespective of tomorrow’s opportunities in a post-Covid world, it is essential to not let staples such as PPE fall by the wayside.”
“It works both ways, construction workers need to take utmost care of their PPE, but it is also the foundation for companies to ensure that their workers are regularly provided with the necessary safety equipment, tools and technology, to do their job and ultimately protect lives,” he concludes.