Watch our video on FAQs from the construction industry on COVID-19.
In the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and the UK government's guidance on social distancing, confusion has been rife in the construction industry as the sector tries to establish whether it should shut sites.
The situation was not made any clearer this week, with the Construction Leadership Council's (CLC) abortive attempt to provide updated guidance.
Site Operating Procedures (Version 1)
On 23 March, the CLC issued Version 1 of its guidance on how best to implement government guidance on social distancing.
The procedures recommend (among other things) avoiding close working, but acknowledges that "there will be situations where it is not possible or safe for workers to distance themselves from each other by 2 metres".
It goes on to outline the following "general principles":
- Non-essential physical work that requires close contact between workers should not be carried out;
- Work requiring skin to skin contact should not be carried out;
- Plan all other work to minimise contact between workers;
- Re-usable personal protective equipment (PPE) should be thoroughly cleaned after use and not shared between workers;
- Single use PPE should be disposed of so that it cannot be reused;
- Stairs should be used in preference to lifts or hoists;
- Where lifts or hoists must be used:
- Lower their capacity to reduce congestion and contact at all times
- Regularly clean touchpoints, doors, buttons etc.
- Increase ventilation in enclosed spaces;
- Regularly clean the inside of vehicle cabs and between use by different operators.
For site meetings, the CLC guidance states that:
- Only absolutely necessary meeting participants should attend;
- Attendees should be two metres apart from each other;
- Rooms should be well ventilated / windows opened to allow fresh air circulation;
- Consider holding meetings in open areas where possible.
On 31 March, in a letter to the construction industry, the UK Secretary of State, Alok Sharma, confirmed that Version 1 "align[s] with the latest guidance from Public Health England (PHE)" and, as that guidance is updated, the CLC guidance will reflect those changes.
As of 3 April 2020, no substantive changes to PHE guidance had been publicised.
In contrast to industry guidance, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for construction sites to be shut to prevent the spread of coronavirus, while Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ordered the closure of all sites in Scotland at the end of March.
Site Operating Procedures (Version 2)
On 2 April, the CLC issued updated guidance (Version 2).
In the CLC's own words, Version 2 includes:
- Clarification that where it is not possible or safe for workers to distance themselves from each other by 2 metres then work should not be carried out;
- The request from Transport for London to avoid using the tube network during peak times;
- Updates from PHE to reference:
- those living with someone who has shown signs of Covid-19 infection
- those living with someone who is shielding
- 60%+ alcohol based hand sanitiser
- keeping groups of workers together to minimise transfer of infection across the workforce
- The need to monitor implementation of the procedures.
However, Version 2 was withdrawn within a few hours of being issued.
CLC's website explains that it decided to withdraw the guidance, in response to "significant feedback" from the industry on Version 2.
While CLC reviews this feedback, the industry should comply with the Version 1 guidance, which has been re-issued on its website:
The clear change in Version 2 was that sites should close where it is not possible for workers to keep two metres apart.
The guidance however failed to offer specific advice on how this could be achieved on construction sites.
The confusion and inconsistency in messaging has done little to allay concerns in the construction industry, which is facing difficult choices about whether to keep sites open and ask contractors to continue operating.
For more information about how construction companies 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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