With COVID-19 still a threat, it is important that everyone in construction continues to do their bit to protect our colleagues and customers. We spoke to representatives at Travis Perkins to hear their advice for the industry, following the changes to government guidance on July 19.

Travis Perkins is the UK's leading supplier of materials and equipment to the building, construction, and home-improvement markets. The group includes Travis Perkins Builders’ Merchants, Toolstation and several specialists in the civils, plumbing, heating, and insulation markets. It employs 20,000 people across 1,700 sites in the UK and several countries in Europe. This is their story of working through the pandemic.

“The majority of our group businesses stayed open throughout the pandemic, supporting critical infrastructure across the country. In branches, our primary focus was to separate customers from colleagues to limit the likelihood of infection. We did this by controlling the time customers arrived at site, the areas they were able to access and the contact points between customers and colleagues.

The pandemic caused our business model to change overnight. By introducing call- or click-and-collect, customers were able to book a slot to pick up their products from branches safely. Whilst our Toolstation brand already offered click-and-collect, the pandemic increased the demand for this.

We moved to hands-free document handling to keep branch-staff and drivers safe. To support this, we introduced one-way systems for social distancing and reconfigured our trade counter to install perspex screens. Feedback shows that these one-way systems have made it easier for customers to easily identify where the products are located in the branch, whilst also increasing sales.

Keeping our drivers safe when delivering to customer sites has also been a priority for us. We instilled a culture where everyone in the branch plays a part in making sure our drivers are safe when making deliveries. The person taking the order makes sure that the right information about social distancing is provided by the customer when the order is taken.

The driver makes the final decision about whether they feel safe to complete the delivery when they arrive at the site. If they are uncomfortable about any aspect, they are empowered to return to their vehicle and leave the site safely. If delivering to a customer’s home, wherever possible we ensure a kerbside delivery is performed. Drivers should not enter customer’s homes. This has also extended to our Benchmarx colleagues, where we have accelerated the use of virtual kitchen design consultations.

Throughout the pandemic we have continued to evolve our own guidance regularly in line with Government secure guidance, ensuring all colleagues are aware and understand what is expected of them. Where infections occurred, the sites went through a rigorous deep clean, alongside the normal COVID-cleaning guidelines.

We were able to provide a level of reassurance in our business through our HSE Advisors conducting COVID Assurance visits across our estate. These visits allowed them to provide support on the implementation of COVID guidelines as well as ensuring the site was COVID secure. This helped reassure the local team that they were doing everything correctly, and also provided assurance to our leadership teams and board members that we were safe to serve customers while protecting our colleagues.

For us safety and wellbeing is about people. That extends to our colleagues, customers, and suppliers. As a result of keeping our people at the forefront of our decision making, the biggest learning we can share from the pandemic is around collaboration. This was critical to our success.

We needed to collaborate with our suppliers, customers, and competitors to learn from each other and share best practice. This allowed us to stand strong in the decisions we made as an industry to keep ourselves and our customers safe.

We also needed to come together as a business to collaborate across brands. Across our PLC we were able to pull expertise from each business unit to ensure all the guidance we put in place was fit for purpose. For instance, within our shop space we needed to reposition our trade counters to ensure customers were able to safely use a one-way system. We were able to pull together a task force on the best design and layout for this. This proactive approach gave us an ‘all-in-it-together’ mentality, which led to getting things done quickly and in the right way for everyone.”

Whatever size your business, there are actions you can take to keep everyone as safe as possible. For further guidance and advice, you can visit gov.uk/workingsafely.