Iain Ormrod, general manager at Chepstow Plant International (CPI), discusses how Covid-19 has reshaped the quarrying and aggregates sector, explains CPI’s response to the crisis, and examines what other businesses could implement at this time.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest disruptions to businesses in modern times, Covid-19 has left a long line of destruction in its wake, with countless businesses across every sector and in every country now relegated to the history books.
With this in mind, it seems essential to futureproof the businesses left standing. However, with no standard approach for adapting to a Covid-19 world, everyone is working hard to simply navigate their way through it.
The quarrying and aggregates sector has experienced its own challenges. Many businesses operating in this space link their success to construction, and with construction sites temporarily shutting down at the pandemic’s peak, there’s an obvious connection to the downturn our sector faces.
Thankfully, construction and quarrying is cyclical, with seasonal trends throughout the year, every year. While it’s inevitable that this year’s trough may be lower than normal, HS2 and other stimulus packages could potentially reverse the industry’s declining output to pre-Covid levels.
Meanwhile, some of our sites – including power stations and steel works – have remained stable, depending on locality or whether they were considered essential.
Heavy investment into health and safety has helped us adapt more quickly than other businesses to the crisis – and our core ethos of striving towards a zero-risk working environment has helped us remain buoyant. If anything, Covid-19 is a prime example of why health and safety should always be high on the agenda for businesses – ensuring we can protect ourselves from the unexpected.
In the last few years, CPI has introduced washable seat covers into vehicles, implemented regular cab cleaning, and safeguarded employees by introducing HEPA filters into vehicles as standard. These provide extra air filtration for operators, protecting them from dust, and recently, Covid-19.
We’re also one of the only companies in the UK and Europe to introduce haul assist technology across multiple sites. Daily granular data from live truck GPS allows us to ensure drivers are using the same vehicles each day and understand who’s taking breaks and conforming to site protocols. This essentially acts as track-and-trace software, enabling us to improve safety for all employees at such a critical time.
Clearly, senior management teams need to ask themselves some searching questions to continue operating sites safely. At CPI, we’ve introduced new safety measures including adopting new cleaning protocols, implementing staggered shifts, maintaining operator separation and opening welfare units on-site. We’re also considering the weather, and how we’ll conduct daily briefings once winter arrives.
Ironically, our mantra “we all stand together to stay safe together” has been undermined by Covid-19. Historically, we’d encourage our operators to take regular breaks, socialise, and not spend days in isolation. We invested time and resources into building teams that work closely together and move towards common objectives – with employees feeling comfortable reporting issues and near-misses. However, now we’re following isolation protocols, that seems like a double-edged sword.
It’s one of many examples where the influence of Covid-19 in the workplace has the potential to let other areas slip and regress – and there’s a risk of overall safety worsening as time goes on. Therefore, we’ve decided not to focus on ‘making things safer’, but instead to ‘change the face of safety’.
What does this mean? Put simply, for any business to succeed right now, they must focus on key drivers and simply incorporate Covid-19 protocols into day-to-day operations. Those focussing purely on Covid-19 and rectifying issues protocols cause will not only lose sight of other potential risks, but also revenue, profit, and areas which safe-guard the company’s future. It’s a challenge to adopt this approach, but it presents an opportunity to focus on running a successful business in testing times.
To ensure our approach is sustainable, our Covid-19 measures are memorable and easily enforceable. We’ve cut through the noise, and now hand-washing, operator isolation and even quarantine are commonplace. Undoubtedly, these measures will eventually become the norm, and businesses which adapt to them quickest can maintain focus on the task at hand.
One conversation that continues to circle is that of personal protective equipment (PPE). The conversation has intensified this year, and hit headlines due to shortages across the NHS. There’s no doubt that businesses should have PPE where appropriate. However, PPE is the lowest form of control; used alone, it won’t solve the issue. There are varying ways to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. For instance, encouraging remote working, providing additional welfare services and enforcing on-site social distancing. PPE should work in tandem with these initiatives, and underpins other measures that we’re putting in place.
We know that complacency around safety can happen, so to cement best practice in the workplace, we’ve launched a behavioural safety programme. This further intertwines the mind-set and approach for both safe working methods and Covid-19. It pushes us to create workforce interdependency, ensuring everyone is looking out for one another.
The quarrying and aggregates sector’s future may appear uncertain, but companies can take steps to mitigate the situation. As a sector, we can’t fight Covid-19, but we can learn to live and work alongside it. If businesses can find a way to do both successfully, it could be the difference between navigating a way through the pandemic and being engulfed by it.
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