Faced with the need to enforce physical distancing and minimise contact, companies providing wet hire services are turning to digital technologies to get the job done.
A growing number of Australian construction companies and councils are seeking out plant hire companies that have adopted mobile technology to minimise the risk of infection during COVID-19. With SafeWork Australia urging employers to keep workers at least 1.5 metres apart and limit physical contact between them, the usual practice of exchanging numerous pieces of paper on worksites is no longer safe and paperless solutions are being implemented.
According to industry leaders, the pandemic has simply accelerated a trend that already existed. While many subcontractors had previously been reluctant to give up their old paper-based ways, they’ve had to embrace the new mobile technology and safety policies put in place by the companies that hire them.
When COVID-19 hit, Brisbane-based Eagle Alliance Earthmoving immediately implemented a new policy that eliminated the use of paper dockets and safety forms because they went through too many hands and posed an infection risk.
"We knew we had to do everything we could to keep our clients and our fleet of over 250 subcontractors working safe, so we asked our subcontractors to start using the Operator365 app,” says Managing Director Rui Lopes. “The transition was smooth because many of them had been using it before COVID-19. We were lucky to have the app because some of our clients gave us the directive that their foremen wouldn’t sign any papers. It really saved us."
Eagle Alliance also asked their subcontractors to follow specific safety procedures when using the mobile technology. "The operator completes the docket on the device, wipes the device with an antibacterial wipe, places the device on the truck and steps away to give the client enough space," says Lopes. "The client steps up to the truck, signs the docket on the device and steps away. The operator then wipes the device again before picking it up."
While some subcontractors consider the COVID-19 safety measures to be an unnecessary annoyance, most are adhering to them. "I’d say about 20 percent of our operators aren’t as careful as they should be with wiping their devices, but they’re doing it well overall," says Lopes. "Most companies we work with have similar policies, so everyone has had to get used to it."
These new procedures might sound like a lot of extra effort, but many operations managers are secretly glad their subcontractors and employees have been forced to go mobile. They'd had enough of chasing lost dockets, correcting docket data errors, dealing with the time lag between job completion and invoicing due to these issues, and wading through an endless sea of safety forms.
Many of them had been using mobile technology before the pandemic, so they already knew all the advantages of going paperless. All they needed was for their subcontractors to get on board too.
"We've been using Operator365 for over a year and we love it,” says Michael Bebbington, Senior Managing Director at Bebrok Excavations on the Sunshine Coast. “We can monitor our contractors’ pre-starts which is fantastic for safety. We get their dockets daily which means we can have our tax invoice to the client within 24 hours. This is great for us to improve our cashflow and great for the client because it gives them real-time costing for their project. We can apply multiple price lists to different clients without drivers forgetting the amounts or charging incorrect rates. We can track and report our daily, weekly and monthly sales, and the app integrates with our accounting software. It also brings all our compliance together into one system. We would be lost without it."
The COVID-19 crisis comes with a silver lining for plant hire companies. Once it’s all over, dockets, safety forms and even toolbox talks will all be processed digitally. There will be no going back to the painfully flawed paper-based system and plant hire managers couldn’t be happier about it.