The current situation due to COVID-19 is an unprecedented global economic crisis caused by a pandemic. Exactly a hundred years earlier, the world already reeling under the effects of World War 1, was affected by Spanish Flu. The current situation, however, is different in the sense that it has put a sudden brake on growth in economies like the Philippines and even pushing them towards recession. This threatens to erase all the socio-economic gains and improvement in standards of living that have been made in recent years thereby.
According to Prof Alvin Ang, Director of Economics, School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University, the current crisis due to COVID will bring the economic growth in the Philippines to nearly zero in 2020 from a high of 6% in 2019. There are strong signals from the government that construction investments will be boosted to mitigate the impacts due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Construction is a key sector of the Philippine economy that employs nearly 4.15 million people and accounts for nearly 10% of the workforce employed by the country. There is work of designing, planning and project management that happens behind closed doors. But for the most part, construction is a physical activity that requires material and labour to be assembled on the job site to execute a project. Several countries such as Australia and Singapore have allowed the construction activity to go unhindered after recognizing the importance of the sector and the ease with which social distancing and hygiene can be implemented.
One of the best practices in this regard has come from the Building & Construction Industry in Victoria, Australia. It has carried on construction in a manner that is in adherence to health advisories. Broadly, the guidelines recommend several pragmatic steps to maintain social distancing and hygiene at a job site. Some of them are highlighted below which are extracted from the full advisory.
- Compulsory use of PPE in all job sites
- In case of outdoor construction, to keep a physical distance of 2 m between workers
- In case of indoor construction, to allow only 1 person for 4 m2 area of construction
- Restrict the number of people at a site through staggered working hours
- Reduce access to job sites especially to non-essential staff
- Minimize the use of shared tools
- Clean frequently used surfaces twice daily
- Establish strong communication practice between supervisors and workers.
There are several other recommendations which are practical and easily implementable in the Philippines. The government must take these into cognizance and recognize the role construction can play in bringing the Philippines’ economy not only back onto its feet but also running again.