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Insight

The CLC updates COVID-19 Site Operating Procedures – but some clarity is still wanting

15/04/2020

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United Kingdom

New guidance on close working, travelling to work and other measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus on construction sites is welcome, but does not provide definitive instructions for an industry that has continued to operate largely without direction throughout the pandemic lockdown.

  The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) updated its guidance on Site Operating Procedures (Version 3) on 15 April 2020, reflecting calls from the construction industry for clarity on the safe operation of sites during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The updated guidance, which is based on Public Health England (PHE) guidelines, confirms that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the enforcing authority for PHE guidelines and states that:

"If a site is not consistently implementing the measures set out by the PHE, it may be subject to enforcement action."

This replaces the previous advice that if a site was not consistently implementing the measures, it could be required to shut down.

There is now a "Hierarchy of Controls" which should be implemented to reduce the risk of infection transmission where two-metre distancing rules cannot be observed.

In particular, site operators should consider whether activities requiring close working need to continue for the site to carry on operating. If so, these activities should be risk-assessed using the hierarchy of controls provided in the guidance.

Close working

For instance, when carrying out close working, workers should be side-by-side, rather than face-to-face. If face-to-face close working is unavoidable, it should be limited to less than 15 minutes.  

In addition, workers that have to work within two metres of each other should be kept in the same teams and away from other workers, where possible.

Travelling to work

The guidance on travelling to work is also updated. The advice remains that people should not travel to work unless they have to and there are added details on who should not travel to work (e.g. those self-isolating or at increased risk).

Where workers have to travel to work, they are advised to travel alone and guidance is provided if that is not possible.  

The recommendation continues to be that site operators should consider staggering site hours to reduce workers' use of public transport at peak times. 

Other procedures

Additional guidance relates to the operation of site canteens, rest areas and the use of signage on site, including floor markings. Further information on first aid and emergency service response is also provided.
 

Our view

The revised SOPs provide welcome further guidance to the construction industry, which has been mired in confusion about how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, especially in terms of protecting workers and continuing to fulfil contracts when staff are ill or worried about coming to work, and supply chains are impacted.

The updated CLC guidance is useful, particularly in relation to those who should and should not be travelling to work, the need for increased signage around sites and recommendations to monitor compliance with procedures.

The "Hierarchy of Controls", where social distancing cannot be maintained, is also a helpful addition.
However, given the revised SOPs have been keenly anticipated following the hasty removal of Version 2 within hours of its publication on 2 April, the industry could be excused for wanting more clarity than they have been given. 

In some places, the guidance is arguably less clear, such as replacing the guidance "to introduce" staggered shifts with an recommendation to "consider introducing" such working patterns – although confusingly the original wording is retained elsewhere. 

Our comments on, and wider industry analysis of, the updated SOP's is included in this report by Construction News, published on 15 April.

For more information about how the construction industry should respond to the disruption caused by COVID-19, this video contains some FAQs, with answers that continue to align with current guidance.
 
If you have any questions or concerns about your projects in light of the coronavirus outbreak, Fieldfisher's construction and projects team would be happy to discuss your specific circumstances with you.
 

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