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Government coronavirus advice for going back to work in the construction industry

6-minute read

Lauren Hellicar

21 May 2020

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As the construction industry heads back to work, the government has released guidance to help tradespeople work safely during the coronavirus outbreak.

However, gov.uk says: “The government is clear that workers should not be forced into an unsafe workplace.” What can you do to keep yourself and other tradespeople safe on site or in your premises?

The guidance for ‘people who work in or run outdoor working environments’ (which includes people working in construction) has been prepared by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Other organisations like Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have also been brought in to help shape the rules, as well as firms, unions, industry bodies, and the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The non-statutory guidance makes it clear that business owners and employers should continue to comply with their existing obligations. It not only applies to employees, it also applies to agency workers, contractors and other people you may work with.

Carrying out a Covid-19 risk assessment

The first step is to carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment, like you would for any other health and safety-related risk. If you’re self-employed or you have fewer than five people working for your business, you don’t need to write down your risk assessment, but you do need to go through the process.

The government guidance says you need to think about the risks to people working with you, and do everything you can reasonably do to minimise those risks. However, it understands that nobody can completely remove the risk of Covid-19.

Read about how to carry out a health and safety risk assessment for your business.

Managing Covid-19 risks on site

If you operate in a shared workspace or site, the guidance says everyone needs to work together to protect everybody’s health and safety. You should carry out the following steps:

  • wash hands and clean surfaces more frequently
  • ‘make every reasonable effort’ to make sure people are working two metres apart

If your business activity doesn’t allow you to keep people two metres apart, you should take the following steps to reduce the risk of infection between workers:

  • increase hand washing and surface cleaning
  • take as little time as possible to complete the activity
  • use screens or barriers to separate people
  • use back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face), if possible
  • work in ‘fixed teams or partnerships’ to reduce the number of people each person has contact with

If the activity means people need to work face-to-face for long periods with more than a small group of fixed teammates, you should consider whether the activity can safely go ahead.

Safety should always be prioritised, so if there’s an emergency like a fire or a break-in, you don’t have to stay two metres apart from others.

Look into whether your trade association has produced specific guidance for your trade. For example, the Federation of Master Builders has produced a restarting building work guide for members.

Cleaning requirements

Once your risk assessment is complete and your site or location is cleaned and ready to go, there are steps you should take to keep it that way, including:

  • using your regular cleaning products to frequently clean your work areas and equipment
  • removing waste and belongings from work areas at the end of each shift
  • cleaning all tools, controls, machinery and equipment after use
  • providing extra hand-washing facilities, if possible
  • putting up signs to encourage good hygiene and sanitation
  • ensuring toilets are kept clean and that social distancing can be observed wherever possible
  • making sure people can dry their hands after washing them

You can read the government’s specific guidance for cleaning after a known case of Covid-19.

Using PPE and face masks on site

The term ‘PPE’ describes the protection healthcare workers use, or the protection people use to limit dust and spray exposure in industrial workplaces. If you already use PPE in your work to protect against things that aren’t related to coronavirus, the government advice is to keep doing so.

According to gov.uk, a simple face covering can be worn in enclosed spaces where you can’t socially distance yourself from other people.

Deciding who needs to be on site

You can ask yourself these questions to help you decide who's needed on site or in your premises:

  • how many people are essential to getting the job done? Aim to have as few people as possible to complete work safely on site
  • are any of your workers clinically vulnerable? If so, they should be given the safest job on site
  • are any of your workers clinically extremely vulnerable? If so, you should help them work from home, either in their current role or an alternative role
  • can some people, like support staff, work from home? If so, they should

People who need to self-isolate should not be made to go to work. You can claim back SSP if an employee is off work because of coronavirus.

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Arriving at and leaving from your site or workplace

Gov.uk reminds us that: “Social distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, break rooms, canteens and similar settings.”

Besides ensuring everyone washes their hands when they arrive for work, the following steps should also be taken:

  • staggering start and finish times to reduce crowding
  • helping people walk, run or cycle to work by providing additional car parking spaces or bike racks, if possible
  • limiting the number of passengers in vehicles, such as work minibuses, by leaving seats empty
  • opening up more site entry points to reduce congestion, if possible
  • having a one-way system for entry and exit, with markings, if possible
  • providing hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser at entry and exit points
  • providing hands-free alternatives to touch-based security equipment, such as keypads
  • changing the way people enter and exit your site or premises, perhaps by deactivating turnstiles so workers can show their pass to security staff from a distance

Moving around the site or premises

To help maintain social distancing in your workplace, the government advises taking the following steps:

  • discouraging non-essential trips on site or in the building – for example, phones could be used instead of in-person conversations
  • putting people on one task for the day to avoid lots of people using different equipment
  • having a one-way system on walkways or in corridors
  • clearly marking the two-metre distance people should observe on site
  • observing social distancing within shuttle buses or other on-site vehicles
  • physically separating different types of workers into working zones
  • planning site access and ‘area of safety’ points to enable social distancing
  • ensuring site inductions are socially distanced, perhaps by holding them outdoors
  • managing the flow of people through spaces in regular use, such as corridors, lifts and walkways

Working in a fixed place

If your work is done mainly at one workstation, here are the steps the government recommends you follow:

  • move workstations farther apart
  • arrange workstations side by side or back to back rather than face to face
  • if you can’t move them apart, use screens to separate people
  • if people need to work in twos, for example, they should stay in that fixed pairing wherever possible

Taking breaks

Social distancing should be observed at break times too. Here are the government’s recommendations on how to do this:

  • stagger break times
  • provide outdoor spaces for breaks
  • space seating to allow people to observe social distancing

Hosting site visitors

Make sure you explain your social distancing and health and safety guidelines to anyone visiting your site, too. But try to restrict visits to only those that are essential. Here are the government guidelines if you do have visitors:

  • explain your Covid-19 health and safety rules to any visitors
  • plan visits so that they don’t overlap, to reduce the number of people on site at one time
  • keep a record of all visitors, if possible
  • make sure anyone hosting visitors is fully aware of your rules and how to explain them

Having meetings

If you can’t hold your meeting remotely, the following steps should be taken:

  • keep participants two metres away from each other, including floor markings to help with this
  • only invite essential participants
  • don’t share pens or other objects
  • provide hand sanitiser in the meeting space
  • hold the meeting outdoors or in a well-ventilated area

Visit gov.uk for full details of the government’s coronavirus safe working guidance for construction and other outdoor work.

Are these measures practical within your setup? Let us know how you feel about the guidelines in the comments below.

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