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The CLC publishes updated Covid-secure SOPs as Unite urges stricter measures

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The Construction Leadership Council has striven to keep pace with the pandemic by regularly updating its Site Operating Procedures in line with PHE recommendations. However, recent supplementary guidance from trade union Unite has suggested that additional infection control measures should be implemented on construction sites.
 
Throughout 2020, Fieldfisher's construction and projects team produced a series of articles relating to the Construction Leadership Council's (CLC) Site Operating Procedures (SOPs). See our article on version 6 of the SOPs (SOP6).
 
On Friday 8 January, the CLC published version 7 of the SOPs (SOP7).
 
No significant changes are made in SOP7. The new version does however provide that canteens do not now need a QR code (as workers are tracked on entry to the site) and has reintroduced shielding advice for those that are "clinically extremely vulnerable".
 
In addition, the guidance for workers with Covid-19 on site has been updated to reflect BuildUK's updated flowchart (which mirrors the latest Public Health England (PHE) guidance for construction and outdoor work), which requires "Sites that identify five or more cases within 14 days to contact their local [PHE] protection team".
 
For a full summary of SOP7, please refer to our SOP6 article above and read it in light of the above summary of SOP7.
 
Unite guidance
 
On 15 December 2020 (while SOP6 was in force), seemingly dissatisfied with CLC's various iterations of the SOPs, trade union Unite issued its "Construction Section: Covid-19 Guide" (Unite guidance), which it says is: "specifically aimed at Unite’s construction representatives but can be utilised by all workers".
 
Unite also claims that its guidance is "far more comprehensive and stringent than the industry’s Site Operating Procedures, which have been heavily criticised…".
 
In particular, Unite takes issue with the SOPs for "…failing to make the wearing of masks compulsory when social distancing cannot be maintained and which allows workers to work face to face for 15 minutes at any one time" and addresses those points in its own guidance.
 
At 30 pages, the Unite guidance is a lengthy document that gives employers and those responsible for site operations issues to consider when ensuring construction sites are as Covid-safe as they can be.
 
To date, the CLC's regularly updated SOPs have generally been regarded as the benchmark for site procedures. Imposing or adopting the measures in the Unite guidance may therefore be regarded as additional to what is required (and, from a commercial perspective, potentially at the time/cost risk of the party determining they should be followed).
 
However, which measures are appropriate to adopt is likely to depend on the particular site and site operators need to carefully assess the risks and the practicalities of imposing various Covid-secure measures.
 
We may see case law guidance in early 2021 as to what might constitute appropriate measures for clients/employers to take in relation to site and personnel safety during the pandemic.
 
We will publish further updates in due course.
 
For more information on the legal implications of Covid-19, please see Fieldfisher's Covid Hub.
 

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