GLOBALLY, the pandemic has brought chaos, and this is all the more apparent in the construction sector.
Just last week, the Government ordered at least two construction sites to be closed after hundreds of workers came down with Covid-19, following the discovery of the Damanlela cluster at one site in Pusat Bandar Damansara, Kuala Lumpur.
Testing found more than 1,300 of them infected, sounding an alarm for industry authorities.
Whatever the case, MMC Gamuda – the builder of the country’s critical transport infrastructure, the Putrajaya MRT Line (formerly known as the Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya Line) – is taking no chances with the highly contagious disease.
Early in March, when the first movement control order was implemented, its senior management had already set up a Covid-19 task force to protect its businesses.
“At the Group level, we have an in-house Covid-19 task force that establishes policies to guide the workforce and cascade these directives to all business units, ” said Sirajunnisa Mohamed Farook, MMC Gamuda’s head of Safety, Health and Environment (SHE).
‘’Our crisis management plan was set in motion not only to meet government requirements, but also to maintain business resilience in the long run, to increase our ability to recover rapidly should a Covid-19 case occur, and to provide the highest level of protection to our workforce.”
This all-encompassing strategy is an unprecedented undertaking, requiring significant enhancements above the prescribed base requirements.
As turnkey contractor for the MRT project and underground works package contractor, MMC Gamuda has close to 15,000 workers under its watch in various worksites over the 50km-long MRT alignment.
With a strong demonstration of its efforts to combat Covid-19, MMC Gamuda was one of the earliest construction companies allowed to resume work during MCO.
“We started off with doing baseline polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on our workforce across all levels, even managing directors, ” explained Sirajunnisa on their modus operandi.
“The baseline PCR test was then followed by the introduction of a scheduled rapid antibody finger-prick RTK test every 10 days, as we felt it necessary to provide continued assurance to our workforce and stakeholders.
‘’The RTK tests at that time in March were deemed the most reliable next to the PCR test, widely accepted as the gold standard, ’’ said Sirajunnisa.
“Since then we have seen the introduction of the RTK-Antigen (RTK-Ag) test, considered a ‘silver standard’, which was integrated into our testing regime and entails taking a nasopharyngeal swab in a similar fashion to PCR.”
To-date 160,000 routine RTK-Antibody tests have been conducted, covering personnel from administrators, construction staff, general workers, security guards, all the way to senior level management.
To ensure everyone is accounted for, each staff member has a unique QR code that stores the information of the worker’s testing records for validation.
Not satisfied with just the “silver standard”, MMC Gamuda embarked on an ambitious undertaking usually reserved for government institutions – having its own PCR testing facility.
With state-of-the-art PCR equipment, a bespoke laboratory, doctors and lab specialists onboard, MMC Gamuda is determined to provide the highest level of health protection for its employees.
‘’We do not intend to wait for someone to tell us when we have a problem. Ignorance is not an excuse in the current Covid-19 climate. We proactively identify potential problems and address them first before the authorities or others flag them, ” said Sirajunnisa, adding that this is the only way to ensure business continuity.
The in-house PCR lab was just unveiled, heralding the large-scale migration from RTK to PCR tests for all of the group’s 20,000 personnel.
With a workforce of this size and a fortnightly PCR test cycle, it is a mammoth challenge, but one passionately embraced by the builder.
Elsewhere, MMC Gamuda’s responsibility extends to four centralised labour quarters (CLQ), housing almost 6,000 workers throughout Klang Valley.
To prevent the possible spread of Covid-19, the Group acted fast to tighten the perimeters of its CLQs with controlled access and segregation.
Not only are workers from different shifts segregated, but efforts are put in to ensure that those with the same skillsets or specialisation are not put together in the same place to mitigate against having the entire team falling sick or placed under quarantine all at once.
“We not only have to stop Covid-19 from entering our facilities, but also make sure it does not spread in the event it does. We have to be extremely strategic throughout and not take any chances, ” said Sirajunnisa.
MMC Gamuda recently completed brand-new quarters at a new site in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, constructed over a record two and a half months to segregate its workforce, that is now touted as a model “Covid resilient” worker accommodation.
To minimise the need for movements, there is a sundry shop, barber and clinic set up there, while laundry services have always been free.
“The workers are not allowed to go out after their shift or wander around freely, ” said Sirajunnisa, adding that these heightened controls are, in fact, well received by the CLQ residents as they made them feel safe.
Compared to many other foreign workers who are unable to go to work, yet not permitted to travel home, due to either being quarantined or having their work sites shut down, MMC Gamuda workers appreciate that they can still go to work – a sentiment shown by the workers during a visit to the Cochrane CLQ recently.
To ensure no one falls between the cracks, every single staff member associated with MMC Gamuda must make daily online self-declarations on their health.
Those who fail to comply will be automatically flagged by the system so that supervisors will be alerted to initiate investigations.
“Anyone who reports or shows any acute respiratory illness symptoms will be cared for immediately.
“We have a full emergency Covid-19 medical team and equipment, and our medics have undergone up to date training provided by WHO, ” said Sirajunnisa, who added that the staggered routine screening of workers will enable them to maintain constant watch on the situation.
“As a responsible employer and industry leader, we are sparing no means in the era of Covid-19 to facilitate essential activities for construction.”
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