The challenges of 1.5 metre

August 20, 2020

“Don’t forget the one and a half metre!”, can be heard frequently across the Noorderhaven building site. It’s easy to say, but not always easily done in the practice of the construction industry. Building site manager Goos Juffer acquired more than just an extra task since the corona outbreak. That’s why commercial manager Danny Janssen came to his aid. “Together you play a game in order to move everyone in the right direction.”

When the nationwide corona measures were put in place mid-March, the Amersfoort office came up with the idea to immediately assist the building sites. Commercial manager Danny Janssen knew straightaway that this was what he wanted to do, as well as where. “I had visited Goos several times on the building site in Zutphen and we had clicked. Which is necessary in order to be able to take on something like this together. You have to be able to challenge and reinforce one and other in order to achieve a common goal.”

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Commercial Manager Danny Janssen and building site manager Goos Juffer (right) on the Noorderhaven building site in Zutphen.

Building site manager Goos Juffer was extremely happy to get Danny’s help. “I already had a lot on my plate and the corona measures really created an additional burden. Not only at the beginning, but still three months down the road. When Danny came up here, we sat down for a cup of coffee and said: what are the requirements and how will we go about it to meet them?”

Rest and pride

In the beginning, there were practical issues, such as additional site cabins, adjusted break times, the replacement of faucets, extra urinals on the building site, jerrycans full of cleansing alcohol and ‘one and a half metre distance’ stickers all over the place. Though, Goos mainly remembers the guys panicking.

“The first week, the corona measures had an enormous impact on the guys, that was kind of a shock to me. At that point, it came down to talking about it. Explaining that it was not too late yet, but that we did have to take action to make sure we did everything we could to prevent matters from getting worse.

There was also a sense of unfairness. Everyone in the Netherlands was working from home and we had to continue as usual. Don’t forget, everyone had their own worries: about their own or family’s health. So, we talked. About why we couldn’t shut down construction and why they should be proud about their ongoing commitment. That’s when we saw their heads go up.”

“By constantly explaining – what is going on and what that means to us – we create transparency. That has helped to bring back the peace. The pride colleagues on the building site take in keeping Heijmans’ engine running, shouldn’t be underestimated.”

Take on

Goos and Danny still talk with the 160 building site workers at Noorderhaven on a daily basis. Danny: “We are constantly asking questions such as: what does this do for you, how does this make you feel? Now, that’s hardly how it usually works in construction. But it does enable you to immediately address issues.

When someone noted that it was kind of strange that we were standing next to one and other at the coffee machine, Goos immediately got a carpenter to install partitions between the coffee vending machines. One of the carpenters suffered from skin irritation caused by hand soap, so Goos straightaway arranged for another type of soap and hand cream with Vaseline.”

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Compliments earned

All actions that are taken in order to properly comply with the corona measures, are set up as follows: acknowledge that it is hard, continue to repeat the message and give compliments. Goos: “We do so by arranging nice things such as sandwiches for all the building site workers. The men love that.”

Danny explains why those compliments are definitely earned. “I think we underestimate what we ask our people to do. Many of these men have been friends for twenty or thirty years. And then, all of a sudden, they are not allowed to share a car anymore?”

“At the same time, they have to comply with the measures and are still expected to deliver the same quality of work as before. If you work very strictly, this is just not possible. Because it’s not possible to secure a wood wool cement board of six hundred by twelve hundred millimetres above your head by yourself. Neither will you be able to get a forty-kilo weighing window frame in the right place by yourself. That’s where I draw the line. We want to do a good job.”

“Next, you have talk to those guys, because, of course, they will say: ‘Hey Dan, what’s going on here? In the car I have to sit diagonally from my mate, while here we are all working close to one and other.’ I also spoke with a bricklayer about the fact that it’s impossible to keep a 1.5 metre distance when passing each other on a scaffold. He asked me if he could get a ticket for this. It’s important to talk about it at such moments. It gives him peace of mind and he can continue to work safely.”

Get each other moving

The key to all of this is to create awareness, Goos explains. “The game Danny and I are playing is aimed at moving everyone in the right direction. Every one of the 160 employees has his or her own story and needs to be addressed differently. Purely following the rules won’t help, everything depends on people’s willingness. You have to get them moving, repeat the message and make them aware: we are doing this with and for each other.”

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