Tunnelling Resilience11 June 2020
The question now on almost everyone’s lips is how are our professional activities going to change after the easing of lockdowns,
The question now on almost everyone’s lips is how are our professional activities going to change after the easing of lockdowns, a process which is now well underway in many countries? How do we restart operations and at what pace? No doubt the tunnelling sector globally has been working on techniques and routines to keep workforces safe through all stages of a tunnel project. But it could take time to get back to normal, or as near an approximation of normal as is possible as long as the COVID 19 threat exists. More than ever, health and safety of employees must remain the top priority even if it means projects take longer to come to fruition. Which means clients too must play their part and be more accommodating.
Keeping safe in an offi ce might not be quite a challenge; down a tunnel it is an altogether different proposition. Even maintaining a two-metre distancing rule on a site at ground level can prove diffi cult, let alone underground.
So, it’s encouraging to hear of sites, such as London’s Thames Tideway which have already started operations (on 21 sites) with new safety regimes in place. There, workers are travelling to work by almost every possible means – avoiding public transport where possible. The result of all such restrictions is likely to mean that the pace of tunnelling will be slower than normal. But if there is one thing we can take from history it is how quickly people adapt successfully to new circumstances – you can get used to anything, so the saying goes.
Some routines – such as constantly monitoring worker health, daily health self-certifi cations and temperature scans will be new to the majority of tunnelling sites; but others, like the need for personal protective wear, will not. It is critical that employers not only provide the masks, shields, hand sanitisers and other PPA items but also printed guidelines on how to use them and the correct behavioural procedures that should be adopted.
Nobody is quite sure when things will return to normal, especially in Europe, where a more deadly Coronavirus is expected to arrive in winter. How quickly tunnel production resumes will be largely determined by the supply of materials and equipment.
Only when suppliers decide it is safe for them to resume normal production can the industry properly get back on its feet. Tunnelling is a resilient industry but how it adapts in the next few months will be key to how resilient it really is.