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News & opinion

14 MAY 2020

Getting back to work safely

On 4 May, the UK government update on COVID-19 included the following statement:

‘Construction work plays an important role in ensuring public safety and provision of public services. It can continue if done in accordance with the social distancing guidelines where possible’.

The government view then is that construction can continue as long as sites implement suitable controls and it is safe to do so.

COVID-19 will be with us for some time and it is important that we continue to monitor sites and implement the guidelines to ensure we stay safe and well during these unprecedented times. The safety of our families and friends is the most important thing on our minds during this pandemic and we are constantly looking at ways to reduce our exposure and risk of infection to those around us.

The safety of loved ones come first and always will do. However, we must also recognise the economy needs to be managed safely to ensure it too emerges fit and well. We must protect and secure our business to withstand whatever the virus throws at us. The government has been working with Public Health England (PHE) to ensure we are safe and has produced a range of measures for the health and wellbeing of all those working in our industry.

At Baily Garner (Health & Safety) some of our clients and contractors are looking to return to work, albeit in reduced numbers. To ensure we continue to move into the next phase we need to put in place measures to safeguard the wellbeing of all those working or affected by our activities.

There are a number of professional bodies, including RICS, posting information and links to navigate our way through the pandemic. Baily Garner (Health & Safety) are no different. We have been sharing information with our clients and contractors and we are constantly updating our colleagues within the industry on the best advice and guidance to help us all get back to work safely.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) places obligations on all duty holders and expects clients to ensure suitable arrangements are made for managing health and safety on site. Clients are also required to ensure the arrangements are maintained and reviewed by the principal contractor to protect the health and safety of all workers on the project.

To ensure we continue to move into the next phase we need to put in place measures to safeguard the wellbeing of all those working or affected by our activities.

The information from the Construction Leadership Council’s site operating procedures only provides guidance, so it is up to the industry to make a judgement call based on the nature of the works and risks involved to implement basic controls.

The CDM 2015 Managing health and safety in construction guidance L153 includes assistance with implementing the regulations and notes that clients have a major influence over the way a project is procured and managed regardless of the nature or size of the project. The client has contractual control because it appoints the designers and contractors, and determines the money, time and other resources available.

The guidance states that ‘CDM 2015 makes the client accountable for the impact their decisions and approach have on health, safety and welfare on the project’ so it is important clients recognise COVID-19 is their responsibility and not just that of the contractors.

Ultimately, the principal contractor has to put in place the controls, but I would expect clients to ‘ensure the arrangements for managing the health, safety and wellbeing of all those employed are being implemented.’ - as outlined within the CDM 2015 client duties regulation 4.

We should all be aware of the general principles of prevention to mitigate risk and where possible identify measures to control residual risk. COVID-19 has clearly set the industry a challenge to manage the potential spread of the virus on construction projects.

Safe operating procedures have been produced based on PHE guidance to ensure we are protecting the workforce and minimising the risk of spreading the virus. All those involved with our sector must follow the current guidance on social distancing and good hygiene as recommended by PHE. Business continuity plans and COVID-19 risk assessments are therefore required, and construction phase plans need to be updated to ensure all activities have been considered. Where necessary, additional control measures should be put in place to manage the risk and spread of the virus.

As a minimum, all business should be implementing the following:

  • review and implement the new site operating procedures
  • ensure all staff are aware of and adopting the new site operating procedures
  • ensure all members of the supply chain are aware of and are adapting their procedures in line with the requirements.

Additional measures to be considered include:

  • supporting work from home where possible
  • back to work self-assessments
  • travel to site assessments – avoiding public transport and encouraging walking, cycling and use of cars if there is additional parking space
  • change to shift patterns or start times to reduce rush hour travel where public transport is needed
  • back to work briefings
  • introduce additional signage (including multilingual signs where necessary) and social distancing measures such as clearly marked out, one-way systems
  • permit to work procedures for work activities that require people to be closer than two metres
  • temperature testing measures to be introduced where necessary
  • proximity sensors such as insertions on high vis jackets
  • use of video cameras to monitor social distancing

A number of project managers are endeavouring to implement the above measures with some success, but one area of concern from clients and contractors revolves around travel to and from work. We are aware some of our contractors are encouraging cycling or walking to work or using their own vehicles to reduce the need to using public transport. However, this is more difficult in rural areas.

Implementation of strict hygiene measures are key to beating the virus. On site it is important everyone can clearly recognise safe access points. Surgical gloves, where necessary, may need to be provided along with making additional handwashing facilities available before entering and leaving the site or building. Defining separate working zones with clear demarcations will also encourage separation. Consider implementing split shifts and staggered break times to facilitate social distancing. Most of all ensure, regular and periodic deep cleaning of work surfaces and those regularly in contact.

We must also remember that it’s not just large construction sites that are affected but also activities linked with tradespeople carrying out essential repairs in people’s homes. It is important to ask if the job is essential and if possible, postpone and rearrange until such time as it is reasonable to do so.

Refurbishment, maintenance and repair of buildings, and all those associated with the management and upkeep of buildings – such as those responsible for implementing statutory undertakings, including maintaining sprinklers and fire alarm systems – will also be required to consider the impact these tasks have on the safety and wellbeing of colleagues and all those affected by their activities.

In these instances, additional measures will need to be considered and communication will be key to safeguarding all those involved. Premise managers will need to identify all statutory compliance activities and evaluate the risks to the business. Inspections and repairs to building will require suitable assessment to ensure appropriate measures can be implemented.

The Health and Safety Executive is the relevant enforcing authority for PHE guidelines. If a business is not implementing the measures set out by PHE, the site or activity may be subject to an enforcement action, so it is equally important we follow all relevant guidance to safeguard the well-being of all those affected by our activities.

The construction industry is adapting, and we must ensure the wellbeing of all those associated with our industry are working together.