1. Confusion over UK Government Covid-19 guidance for the construction Industry
The UK’s Government initial advice for the construction industry can be found at: https://lcrig.org.uk/news/construction-sector-guidance-covid-19-response
James Woolgrove, SCOHSG’s Past Chairman, is concerned about the clarity of this advice about essential construction work because employers have been warned they could face action if they do not protect workers’ health during the coronavirus outbreak. James is the Director of James Heritage Health and Safety, a consultancy that specialises in providing practical health and safety advice to construction firms. He has many years of experience that include advising managers of complex and and one-off heritage building projects, about compliance with the CDM Regulations 2015.
He explained that the Irish government have adopted a different strategy – they have produced guidance that defines essential construction work as: ensuring that hospitals can operate efficiently, maintaining sanitary and safe conditions for people in their homes and continuing to work on major infrastructure projects.
James said that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Trade Unions Congress (TUC) and Confederation of British Industry (CBI) made a joint statement, in the hope of clarifying requirements for safe construction work during the coronavirus outbreak. It says:
“…Firms that can safely stay open and support livelihoods should not be forced to close by misunderstandings about Government guidance…” and noted that “…Most employers were going to great lengths to ensure social distancing wherever possible…” However, they added the caveat that “…If it comes to the HSE’s attention that employers are not complying with the relevant Public Health England guidance (including enabling social distancing where it is practical to do so), HSE will consider a range of actions ranging from providing specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices, including prohibition notices…”
See also a Westmorland Gazette interview with James: https://www.thewestmorlandgazette.co.uk/news/18360841.questions-raised-advice-construction-work/
2. The construction workers’ (everyones?) dilemma – to work or not to work?
James explained that many tradespeople have decided to ‘down tools’ after asking themselves if their work is so essential that it needs doing and that they ought to continue working, while trying to minimise their exposure to Corvid-19.
He said that all the construction project managers he regularly works with have decided that their work is not essential, in the short term, and that they do not want to risk the safety of their employees and subcontractors’ families. Their decision to adopt this strategy was made easier because of the UK Government’s emergency scheme that allows employers to furlough employees during the current period of ‘lock-down’.
However, some people believe that other things need to be considered too; that it is important for businesses to carry on working to ensure the future financial wellbeing of the UK. This depends on having a vibrant economy capable of sustaining the future physical and mental wellbeing of the population. They believe that the UK Government’s planning ought to ensure that the UK has robust businesses that will provide a wide range of employment opportunities once the coronavirus outbreak is past its peak. They suggest that if employers can implement safe working procedures, that comply with coronavirus social distancing and cleansing requirements, then they should be allowed to trade.
3. Advice for managers of construction sites that are still operational
Build UK have produced a document called Construction Site Operational Procedures with practical advice about ways of implementing the UK Government’s coronavirus social distancing and cleansing advice on construction sites: Build UK Constriction site operating procedures during the coronavirus outbreak 2020
Langley, supported by the Construction Industry Council has put together a helpful video with guidance for construction site managers and workers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doF_vyqjAf0&t=11s
Build UK’s web site also has other useful information: https://builduk.org/coronavirus/
The Construction Leadership Council is regularly updating its coronavirus advice for the construction industry. It has helpful guidance on:
- Site operating procedures: http://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/news/site-operating-procedures-during-covid-19/
- Site operating procedures v2 (with recommendation to use version 1 above until an updated document has been agreed): http://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/news/finding-an-open-builders-merchant-during-covid-19/
- Site operating procedures v3 – focusses on the larger sites with no guidance for tradesmen working in people’s homes http://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/news/site-operating-procedures-version-3-published/
Payment and contracts: http://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/news/clc-statement-on-payment-and-contracts/
Finding a builders’ merchant that is open: http://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/news/finding-an-open-builders-merchant-during-covid-19/
The construction industry coronavirus task force: http://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/news/finding-an-open-builders-merchant-during-covid-19/
Advice on employment schemes: http://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/news/clc-advice-on-coronavirus-employment-schemes/
The Construction Plant Hire Association has produced useful guidance for companies who have tower cranes that are not being used during the coronavirus pandemic. It is called: Out of Service Tower Crane Safety: Tower Crane Safety advice for leaving cranes out of service during the Coronavirus outbreak
The Scaffolding Association have published the following guidance:
COVID19 Scaffold Inspection April 2020 guide: https://scaffolding-association.org/covid-19-advice/
It provides practical advice on complying with Regulations 12 and 13 of the Work at height guidance, applicable to scaffolding. Its main recommendations are that scaffolding that is not being used, is not sheeted, is below 10m high and is not providing a temporary roof should be left in a safe state and will only need inspecting after a severe weather incident (or other severe incident such as being driven into or suffering vandalism) or prior to work restarting on site.
Interesting footnote: Bovis Homes has agreed to trial a prototype social distancing system, being developed by technology company Tharsus, that will alert workers if they have gravitated to less than 2 metres from a fellow worker. The aim is to ensure that building site workers comply with social distancing rules and to protect them from coronavirus infection. The system is believed to be based on a vibration and/or flashing lights because building sites are notoriously noisy at times.