October 23, 2020
Photos by: Caroline Chia | Words by: Serene Goh

(Photo above) Mr Rajendran Samidurai, 35, from India, puts on the reusable mask from Temasek Foundation. These masks are being distributed to all who work in the built environment (BE) sector.

As Singapore’s built environment (BE) sector regains steam to new-normal habits, on-site innovations testify to Covid-19’s far-reaching impact.

At one of its project sites in Holland Village, main contractor Woh Hup’s additions have a pragmatic sensibility. In place of taps, wash water is now dispensed using newly installed foot pedals to do away with the need for hand contact.

Sanitiser stations speckle the area, while in areas for interaction, such as dining and rest areas, partitions ensure safe distancing. Bright yellow squares with blue footprints have been painted on the ground, respectably spaced apart, in congregation areas. At the entrance, meals must now be dropped off into large boxes labelled Burmese/Thai, Chinese, Bangladeshi and Indian. 

Mental wellness posters from HealthServe, a non-profit organisation serving the migrant workers community, with hotlines and virtual counselling information, are plastered across walls at eye level in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil, encouraging workers to call if they’re asking questions such as, “It’s difficult to sleep at night. What can I do?”

A site supervisor explains to workers that the reusable masks need only be washed once a week, instead of daily, and is reusable for up to 30 washes

(Above) A site supervisor explains to workers that the reusable masks need only be washed once a week, instead of daily, and is reusable for up to 30 washes.

Making it a point to ask after workers’ general wellbeing and state of mind has also become part of daily conversations among team leaders, supervisors and the men. 

Other additions, harder to see, are also in place, such as contact tracing. The TraceTogether app is used for entry into Woh Hup’s construction work sites. All personnel registered to work on a construction site are scheduled for swabbing fortnightly.

At the event for distribution at the site, Woh Hup’s deputy project director Mr Yong Jian Rong, said “we try our best to make sure the message is heard.” 

“It’s not always possible to give the workers everything they want, such as going out freely. Some of them have been stuck indoors for months. In the meantime, we try our best to ensure their needs are met and to provide whatever comfort we can.”
Mr Yong Jian Rong, deputy project director, Woh Hup

“It’s not always possible to give the workers everything they want, such as going out freely,” he said. “Some of them have been stuck indoors for months. In the meantime, we try our best to ensure their needs are met and to provide whatever comfort we can. We also try to engage and train them through the KNOW app (used for internal communications) that is used company-wide.”

Temasek Foundation’s mask distribution was one among efforts by the industry to sustain workplace welfare.

In fact, face masks are ubiquitous. Life saving, they have become more critical to continued operations than a hard hat and work boots, protecting workers and preventing the spread of the virus.

Woh Hup’s project team was there to receive masks from Temasek Foundation as part of its contribution of 500,000 reusable face masks to the built environment (BE) sector. “We’re very thankful for the masks from Temasek Foundation. It’s a benevolent deed that is being done for the workers and the community,” said Mr Yong.

Indian national, Mr Neelakandan Kannan, 27, wears the reusable mask from Temasek Foundation. A total of 500,000 masks will be going to the built environment sector, and distribution is underway

(Above) Indian national, Mr Neelakandan Kannan, 27, wears the reusable mask from Temasek Foundation. A total of 500,000 masks will be going to the built environment sector, and distribution is underway.

The effort is part of the Foundation’s nationwide StayMasked initiative. It aims to provide Singapore’s communities with various reusable masks for their added protection and assurance, as they head out or to workplaces. The drive has a special focus on frontliners in the defence and security sectors, as well as migrant workers.

The Foundation is supporting the BE sector in a tripartite effort together with SCAL (Singapore Contractors Association Ltd) and the Building Construction And Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU).

The type of reusable masks going to the BE sector are designed to be washable once a week — instead of daily — for up to 30 times, because of their antimicrobial properties. Its usage is intended to complement increased safe distancing and hygiene measures as work across the industry ramps up. 

Mr Zainal Sapari, BATU’s executive secretary, noted that its wearability is critical; masks must be designed and engineered for comfort in humid weather. 

“It’s only when the worker feels comfortable wearing the masks whilst working that the measure is considered effective,” he said. “This, coupled with all other safe management measures, will be a more reliable risk management plan. Not to mention, if the mask can be reused for a longer period without compromising its safety function, it will be greener and more sustainable to our environment as well.”

He noted that expeditious tracing is critical to restore the sector’s productivity too. “The faster we can decipher close contacts to a confirmed case, the earlier we can segregate them and avert a community spread. In this way, a massive lockdown can be averted through more localised containment. This will avoid unnecessary productivity loss and delays in construction projects. Only then can a construction restart be sustainable.”

Indian national, Mr Rajendran Samidurai, 35, wearing the reusable mask from Temasek Foundation at work on a site in Holland Village

(Above) Indian national, Mr Rajendran Samidurai, 35, wearing the reusable mask from Temasek Foundation at work on a site in Holland Village.

In January, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) projected the total construction demand to remain strong in 2020, with the total value of construction contracts to be awarded  expected to range between $28 billion and $33 billion for the year. 

By September, the BCA had reduced its forecast by $10 billion, to between $18 billion and $23 billion. The revision came after its mid-year review of construction contracts awarded in the first half of 2020, which suffered a drop in demand in private-sector construction, and postponements in the award of some public sector projects to 2021.

“Our BE (built environment) sector has borne the brunt of Covid-19, especially the migrant workers who have not been able to return to work… Temasek Foundation, SCAL and BATU are working together to ensure that each worker will be provided with these masks, and help them to return to work safely.”
Mr Ng Boon Heong, CEO, Temasek Foundation

“Our BE sector has borne the brunt of Covid-19, especially the migrant workers who have not been able to return to work,” said Temasek Foundation’s CEO, Mr Ng Boon Heong. “In the spirit of tripartism, Temasek Foundation, SCAL and BATU are working together to ensure that each worker will be provided with these masks, and help them to return to work safely.”

In addition to construction workers, masks will also be distributed to employees in related downstream activities such as subcontractors, trade specialists, equipment and material suppliers, surveyors, project managers, architects and engineers who may be involved in BE projects.  

While the number of Covid-19 cases in dormitories has declined, he added, the use of masks complements other good healthy practices. “During this Covid-19 pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe.”

 


 

The Storytellers

  • Caroline loves photography and trekking, and never turns down a trip to the mountains.

  • Serene believes in the power of good pie, and publishing stories that inspire. You can call her a pie-blisher.

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