In 2019 Sterling Services won the £4M contract to design, manufacture and install the architectural precast brick faced and Portland finish panels to Hackney Academy; as well as the £1.8M contract for the adjacent Britannia Leisure centre. This was a record-breaking contract for Sterling, so naturally we were anxious when the pandemic hit. Would we be able to continue manufacturing? Would we suffer from staff shortages? Would sites remain open and would we be able to access materials?
Keeping to programme timings has been a crucial part of the contract for Hackney Academy, as the project is due for completion in 2021. There were initial concerns at the beginning of the pandemic regarding liquidated and ascertained damages and this played a big part in the Boards’ decision on whether to close the business for lockdown or not. Sterling Services however, were in a beneficial position during this unprecedented pandemic compared to many manufacturing companies. Due to our large open spaces and the nature of our processes it was feasible to continue production at the same rate whilst maintaining social distancing and Covid safe health and safety measures.
At our Taunton premises, operatives can stay two metres apart whilst operating concrete skips and gantry cranes, with plenty of room to stay apart whilst pouring, finishing and loading panels.
There were, of course, changes that needed to be made to ensure social distancing at other times; for instance our welfare facility did not have capacity to house all our workforce at two metres apart. To rectify this, we transformed our boardroom into an extra canteen, and staggered the workforces’ breaks to ensure social distancing was adhered to. This presented an extra benefit as our production efficiency improved thanks to having half the operatives working at any break time as opposed to down time.
Rigorous hygiene measures have been put in place to protect the workforce including providing hand-sanitising stations around the factory and posters to communicate the dangers and symptoms of coronavirus. One employee has been tasked with travelling the site throughout the day sanitising all door handles, hand rails, and toilets, as well as clear spacing markings to floors, desks and tables to guide employees regarding the two metre rule. Risk Assessments and Covid specific inductions communicated this clearly to the workforce.
Another key aspect we had to consider during this time was availability of materials. To ensure that we had the capacity to continue manufacture Sterling purchased many materials in big bulk loads to insure against any future closures of supplier businesses. Doing this at the start of the lockdown period was a foresight we came to be glad of in the coming weeks when merchants, timber mills, and of course sanitary suppliers started to either close or run out of stock.
We are lucky in one respect that the panels for Hackney Academy and Britannia Leisure Centre are large enough to allow social distancing when finishing, loading and installing panels. Had we been working on a project with much smaller panels this would certainly have presented difficulty.
Panels are loaded for dispatch using our overhead gantry cranes in the factory, which can be used in conjunction with taglines in order to ensure operatives need not work in proximity. When these panels arrive on site, they are off loaded using the site crane and, due to their size, installers also need not stand close together while installing as they can stand on opposite sides of the panel to fix.
Our panels are transported to site using flat-bed trailers with box or V frame which means no two people need to be inside while off-loading as they would with a curtain frame.
Sterling Services are incredibly grateful that we have been able to operate effectively during these challenging times, to keep to schedule and protect the jobs of our workforce and the business as a whole. We look forward to the completion of Hackney as our biggest contract yet and hope for continued growth as we take on a full order book until June 2021.