Willmott Dixon masters social distancing site challenge

Aaron Morby 4 years ago

Willmott Dixon is using a mix of technology and novel working practices to keep its £48m Birmingham University school of engineering project on track during the coronavirus epidemic.

The project is about six months away from completing
The project is about six months away from completing

The private building contractor was one of the first firms to adopt new site working practices in the early stages of coronavirus lockdown.

Nick Proverbs, senior operations manager, said the big project had now successfully adapted to ensure workers could observe social distancing measures.

The change has involved clearer planning of activity and in some instances moving work off-site to give workers more space.

Now Willmott Dixon also holds virtual site tours for its client.

“When guidance by Construction Leadership Council was released, our first action was to review what roles could be performed from home, which led to our design and commercial teams relocating to their homes,” said Proverbs.

“This helped free up space in our site cabins to implement social distancing measures, placing each desk station more than 2m apart at any one point.

“Our supply chain partners also implemented the same process in their site cabins to reduce the number of people to just key roles.”

UoB office distancing.jpg

Site team re-configured operations to ensure social distancing site lay-out.

Willmott Dixon looked at where bottlenecks were likely to be, such as staircases and routes in and out of the site.

To combat this, it created a series of one-way systems, allowing site operatives to keep their distance and avoid oncoming people.

UoB one way.jpg

To give site operatives greater space to take their breaks in, Willmott Dixon hired a 190 sq m marquee, erected on one of the University car parks.

Marquee as a canteen.JPG

Temporary canteen allows social distancing at breaks

In other areas, Willmott Dixon created rotas and removed seats to prevent overcrowding.

The firm has also appointed a site attendant to monitor the drying room to ensure no more than two people use it at any one time.

Canteens, meeting rooms, desks, and all site entrances and exits were equipped with hand sanitisers.

UoB hand sanitiser.jpg

Each morning, Willmott Dixon holds toolbox talks with staff and supply chain partners to communicate the latest guidance and working practices.

Meetings are held in open areas, allowing for the maintenance of the 2m rule.

Where roles can abide by social distancing work has continued.  For roles such as installing plasterboard, where it is near-impossible to work safely while abiding by social distancing, work has stopped.

Proverbs said that if anyone shows symptoms of the coronavirus or needs to self-isolate, they are empowered to do so and it is critical they abide by this directive.


Willmott Dixon has finished constructing the concrete frame and is currently building the atrium roof, external windows and cladding, as well as internal stud partitioning and mechanical and electrical installations.

“Most of the work has been able to continue and abide by social distancing,” said proverbs.

“In some instances, such as some of the joinery in the atrium, work has been moved to take place offsite to enable more space for site operatives to work.”

He added that the supply of materials had become more challenging after some builders’ merchants closed, although many are now reopening.

He said: “We have also experienced materials we have ordered being diverted to the NHS; this is completely understandable at a time of crisis.”

To plan works, Willmott Dixon is using Spannureva, an application based sticky note planning system.

This allows it to collaboratively plan anywhere, maintaining social distancing on-site while allowing those working from home to participate.

All supply chain and design partners have access to the plan, which allows for discussions around planned activity.

“Through implementing this process, we are seeing an increase of 25% in our planned activity complete measures,” said Proverbs.


Keeping the customer abreast of progress and challenges remains critical.

At the start of each week, there is an internal operations COVID-19 virtual meeting to review overall progress, current works, any challenges the team are facing and what it means to the project.

Each Wednesday Willmott Dixon holds a virtual guided site tour for the client using a GoPro.

The video is then uploaded to Microsoft Teams, allowing the customer to see the latest developments, pause and ask questions.


Site tours are now done online

Latest news

McLaren gets green light for 45-storey Leeds tower

Landmark Wellington Square scheme will see 464 flats built with 360,000 sq ft of offices
2 days ago

Heavy rain causes 1.9% construction output fall

Hopes remain undampened of a resi-led recovery this summer
2 days ago

Taziker restruture to return to profitability after £1.2m loss

Founders bought the business back from private equity after last year's loss
2 days ago

£220m London wharf homes scheme approved

285 homes to be built beside protected Albert and Swedish Wharves in Wandsworth
2 days ago

Major project veteran named civils director for Sizewell C

David Speight previously worked on Hinkley, Heathrow and HS2 client teams
2 days ago

Morgan Sindall lands £19m Milton Keynes hospital job

Crane lifts to be carefully co-ordinated to ensure air ambulance remains active
3 days ago

Clancy bolsters civils leadership team

Daniel Tonkin and Simon Hyams join as operation directors of water and infrastructure
3 days ago

Balfour names new project boss for HS2’s super-hub station

Steve O’Sullivan replaces Nigel Russell who was promoted to CEO of Balfour's HS2 ops
3 days ago

Buckingham Group supply chain hit doubles to £256m

Total owed to unsecured creditors soars as surety providers finalise claims
3 days ago

Builders demand an end to police plant bans

Call to suspend all embargoes on moving mobile cranes and large site kit
3 days ago

Green light for £65m Blackpool multiversity campus

Education campus of 350,000 sq ft will be delivered in phases
3 days ago

Vinci signs £138m Sheffield steel forge expansion deal

Sheffield Forgemasters signs landmark contract after two years of pre-construction works
4 days ago

McAlpine hires HS2 programme boss to head defence arm

Armed forces logistics expert Mike Hickson takes role as MD of defence
4 days ago

£200m carbon capture plan for Deeside site

Energy from waste operator enfinium looking to invest in North Wales plant
3 days ago

McAleer & Rushe promotes five staff to contracts directors

Design and build contractor targets £500m revenue next year
4 days ago

Consultant quartet win Government estate upgrade deal

Government Property Agency selects Arcadis, Tetra Tech, AtkinsRéalis and McBains
4 days ago

Resi towers pioneer to transform Liverpool site

Beetham founder Hugh Frost to help develop 1,200 new homes
5 days ago

Construction Manager of the Year crowned

Galliford Try's Barry Kingscote wins coveted prize: Full list of winners
5 days ago

Landsec £250m London terraced office job approved

Skanska tipped for 20-storey Hill House scheme near Fleet Street
5 days ago

Lendlease tops March contracts league

BAM and ISG rank third with big contract wins
4 days ago

Vistry strikes deal with Homes England for 1,000 units

Firm's timber frames factory will supply most of the Midlands houses
4 days ago

Morgan Sindall go-ahead to build 23-storey Salford resi job

Funding deal with CBRE allows latest project on bank of River Irwell to proceed
5 days ago

Unite Students gains planning for London and Bristol schemes

RG Group will build landmark Stratford tower and Freestone Island projects
5 days ago

Rolls-Royce gets go-ahead for 1.1m sq ft expansion in Derby

Major expansion of Raynesway campus planned to met submarine fleet orders
5 days ago

GMI Construction edges back into profit

A year of controlled consolidation helped generate £0.9m profit but cash at bank dropped to £10m
5 days ago

Balfour gets final sign-off for HMP Highland at £209m

Deal struck for delayed Inverness prison after costs rocket
6 days ago

Renew buys bridge maintenance business

Contractor boosts highways division with £5m acquisition
5 days ago

HS2 tests market for £150m mass transit job

2.4km long elevated Automated People Mover to go out to tender in 2026
5 days ago

Cardo completes fourth acquisition in a year

Expanding Welsh building maintenance specialist reaches £170m turnover
6 days ago

Watchdog clears Heidelberg takeover of Mick George

Four quarries and five ready-mix operations to be sold to meet competition concerns
6 days ago

Contractor services