On Sunday evening Boris Johnson addressed the nation to announce his plans of easing the lockdown. As part of his plans to restart the economy while containing the spread of Covid-19, construction and manufacturing industries were specifically cited as industries that should be “actively encouraged” to return to work this week.
Although the prime minister stressed that it is still too soon to end the lockdown, he suggested that it’s now time to slowly get the economy back up and running again.
Johnson said: “We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.
“And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So, you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited.”
Although construction firms have been urged to keep sites open throughout the lockdown period, many sites closed when the lockdown began in March. At the end of March, close to 2,000 building sites, accounting for 65 per cent of the value of all work under construction at the time, had been suspended according to data provider Glenigan. However, some sites are starting to see a gradual return to work which has picked up pace in recent weeks.
Construction workers have struggled to adhere to the strict social distancing rules, causing widespread confusion as to whether people on building sites should be working at all. With non-essential construction work still banned in Scotland, some in the industry have claimed there is inconsistency in the advice being given to the construction industry from the UK governments.
However, to ensure businesses can operate safely, the government have released ‘Covid-19 secure’ guidelines to get construction businesses back up and running.
What are the new guidelines for construction workers?
The new guidance covers eight workplace settings which are allowed to be open, from outdoor environments and construction sites to factories and takeaways.
New government guidance said that bosses of employees who mainly work outdoors, such as in the construction or agricultural industries, needed to ensure that staff could work – even if social distancing was not possible.
The government advices if you would normally wear PPE in your work activity to protect against non Covid-19 risks, you should continue to do so. But they are discouraging workers from wearing additional PPE to protect themselves from Covid-19. However, face masks can be worn as a precautionary measure in situations where social distancing is not possible.
The Covid-19 secure guideline mentions “Where you are already using PPE in your work activity to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, you should continue to do so.
At the start of this document we described the steps you need to take to manage COVID-19 risk in the workplace. This includes working from home and staying 2m away from each other in the workplace if at all possible. When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial. This is because COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE.”
Other guidelines include:
- Staggering arrival times and providing more entry points to construction sites
- Giving people single tasks for the day so the fewest hands touch the equipment
- Separating sites into different “zones” to keep groups of workers apart to contain any potential spread of coronavirus
- Limiting the number of visitors on-site
- Sanitising all hand tools, controls, machinery and equipment after use
The prime minister recognises there is still no real solution to public transport, causing confusion for many construction workers as to how they can get to work. The advice is to continue avoiding trains and buses if you can.
Keir Starmer, Labour party leader said: “This statement raises more questions than it answers, and we see the prospect of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland pulling in different directions.
“The prime minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or clear guidance as to how to get there without using public transport.”
Access the full Covid-19 secure guidelines here.