Between the version 3 of the Construction Leadership Council’s Site Operating Procedures (SOPs) published 14 April 2020 – available here – and SOPs version 4 published on 18 May 2020 (which incorporated the Government guidance on Working Safely during Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Construction & Other Outdoor Work, and available here in full, there were negligible changes to the SOPs. However, the SOPs version 5 (SOPv5) published on 1 July 2020 and available here, shows more tell-tale signs that construction sites are getting back to business as usual, with SOPv5 reflecting the easing of lockdown measures being introduced in England from Saturday, 4 July 2020.
The five key changes in SOPv5 are as follows:
- The incorporation of the Government’s “one metre plus” social distancing rule as opposed to the previously stipulated “two metre” rule. Accordingly, employers can now implement a one metre rule with risk mitigations in place.
Risk mitigations include:
- when driving to work or between site locations, workers should share a vehicle with the same individuals (if they cannot travel alone), maintain good ventilation, face away from each other and regularly clean the vehicle;
- minimising the frequency and time workers are within close proximity of each other;
- workers should work side-by-side, or facing away from each other, rather than face-to-face;
- lowering the capacity of lifts and hoists to reduce congestion and contact; and
- workers should wash their hands before and after using any equipment.
- Updates on when to travel to work. Construction workers are being actively urged to avoid using public transport during peak and very busy times of the day. The exclusion time period has been further extended to 05:45am to 8:15am, while the 16:00 to 17:30 peak travel exclusion remains. Transport for London has published a toolkit for the construction sector setting out the latest travel advice for the workforce on sites across London – available here.
- Site entry systems are to be “regularly” cleaned rather than between each use, as previously stipulated.
- Drivers delivering to sites must now have access to welfare facilities.
- Previously closed or restricted use service canteens on construction sites are to re-open. The guidance provides a checklist for this reintroduction such as using contactless card payments, staggered break times to avoid congestion, socially distant tables reconfigured to reduce face-to-face interactions and cleaning tables between each use.
The relaxation of the lockdown rules on site may be welcomed by hungry contractors wanting easy access to food and drinks but poses questions for employers about risk management and responsibility for employees’ safety.
There is a constant balancing exercise between getting back to normal and safety as can be seen by the recent news that at a Walkers crisps’ site in Leicester where 28 staff have tested positive for coronavirus. Any employee who has contracted coronavirus or suspects they have coronavirus (including those contacted by the NHS test and trace service) must self-isolate for a period of 14 days from when the first member of their household showed symptoms or until they test negative. With construction sites already suffering with decreased levels of productivity and previous delays, employers can ill-afford a potential coronavirus outbreak and the knock-on reduction of operatives due to self-isolation requirements.
On balance, many in construction will already have been adopting the one metre plus approach for essential works where the previous two metres proved to be unsafe. However, the safety vs speed of recovery continues to be a heavy burden on those in construction keen to avoid paying for delays (in terms of time or money or both). There remain important safety concerns on site not least of which is how are construction workers to get to site without using peak time public transport. A clear approach to risk assessment is especially important at the current time to ensure workers are kept safe.
Should you have any questions or concerns about your projects in light of the coronavirus outbreak, please contact our Construction team who will be happy to discuss your specific circumstances with you.
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