In Covid update

With still some confusion about which if any construction sites can remain open, UK construction industry activity in March 2020 is reported to have fallen to its lowest level since April 2009. The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction Total Activity Index has dropped from 52.6 in February to 39.3 in March.

To aid the industry, the Cabinet Office has released construction-specific guidance to its Procurement Policy Note 2/20, which outlines how public sector clients can support the supply chain during the coronavirus crisis. The guidance aims to highlight how the support can work with current industry contracts and includes some model deeds of variation. It also blocks companies from furloughing staff that are due to work under contracts subject to relief.

In England, the Government continues to recommend that construction should continue, so long as the work can be conducted in accordance with social distancing guidelines. PHE has issued new guidance on Social distancing in the workplace during coronavirus (COVID‐19), which includes specific guidance for a number of sectors including: Construction and Manufacturing and processing businesses.

For construction the guidance states: “Where it is not possible to follow the social distancing guidelines in full in relation to a particular activity, you should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the site to continue to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission.”

The guidance then suggests what some of these mitigating actions could be.

The advice for manufacturing and processing businesses is similar. It states that where it is not possible to follow the social distancing guidelines in full and the activity needs to continue for the business to continue to operate, mitigating actions should again be taken. These may include ensuring staff “work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face if possible.”

Furthermore, the Government has highlighted work on the remediation of high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding, particularly those with unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding, as critical to public safety declaring that it should continue. In a letter to stakeholders, Neil O’Connor CBE, Director, Building Safety Programme at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government states: “The Government’s view is that this work is critical to public safety and should continue, working within the safety guidance, wherever possible.”

He notes that the Government has now put in place additional project management support with construction expertise to help oversee remediation. As well as supplying additional support in identifying blockers to progress, the team will  work with those responsible for remediation and the Department to understand the impact of COVID-19 on remediation projects and identify ways to reduce the impact on pace. The Government has provided guidance on remediation and Covid-19.

The Welsh Government introduced Regulation 7A of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020  on 7 April which makes clear that the 2m social distancing rules will apply to all workplaces, including outdoor spaces like highways and construction sites. However, it has released subsequent guidance on Taking all reasonable measures to maintain physical distancing in the workplace.

This recognises that physical distancing may not be possible for all activities, including heavy lifting; where workers are required to travel together; where dual working is to ensure safety; and working in confined spaces, for example repairing infrastructure for utilities.

Stating that employers and staff will be best placed to know what can be done, the guidance notes: “It will be for a business to justify the reasonable measures that they have adopted and to demonstrate how they have considered that these are proportionate and minimise the risks faced by workers who have to continue to attend work in their workplace.”

The Scottish Government has published the clearest construction sector guidance to date, setting out what it considers to be essential and non-essential services and calling on all non-essential services to be halted.  The construction sector and its supply chain is considered a non-essential business sector, except where supporting one of 13 defined Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sectors. The measures apply until further notice and will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.

For those sites still attempting to remain open, the Builders Merchants Federation has published information on the current status of suppliers and merchants.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has convened a Construction Industry Task Force to provide a focal point for co-ordinating the industry response to Covid19, and to facilitate communication between the industry and Government. The CLC is expected to release an updated version of its Site Operating procedures imminently. Check the CLC website for updates.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by Construction Manager magazine and the Chartered Institute of Building of more than 1,000 industry professionals, has found that more than half (57%) of construction businesses surveyed believed they can follow coronavirus health guidelines and keep sites open. However, only 46% of respondents reported that workers are happy to continue working. Furthermore travelling to and from is proving more problematic, with only 61% reporting that it was possible.

The ASFP is continuing to collate and distil available guidance and pass it on to members to aid with their planning. Please see the below, in addition to the information supplied in previous Coronavirus Updates.

A range of ASFP learning resources are also available for those working remotely who wish to update their skills.