Following the declaration by the World Health Organisation of COVID-19 as a pandemic, we have all since been considering the commercial and social impact of coronavirus/COVID-19 on construction projects.
Following the declaration by the World Health Organisation of COVID-19 as a pandemic, we have all since been considering the commercial and social impact of coronavirus/COVID-19 on construction projects. Consequently, in the most part, the relevant contractual clauses (including force majeure and extensions of time) have now been triggered.
In a bid to try and prevent the virus from spreading, the government passed the Coronavirus Act 2020. This works to slow the spread of COVID-19 and enforced social distancing measures, resulting in a vast majority of the UK being closed for business!
With thousands of workers being furloughed or working from home where possible, it left the construction industry (for one) in new, unchartered territory and having to consider the closure of sites and projects.
Construction – England
Despite being under pressure to do so, the Government did not order the closure of all construction sites in England.
Furthermore, the Secretary of State for Business acknowledged the important contribution the construction industry makes in his letter of 31 March 2020. He also confirmed that construction work could, (and should where possible) continue and sites were allowed to remain open and operational if they comply with the Site Operating Procedures (SOP) as published by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).
Social Distancing Guidance
On 7th April 2020, an updated guide on social distancing measures within the workplace confirmed that IF done in line with the guide, construction was allowed to continue on site (NB: this applied to England only; Wales and Scotland followed their own guidelines).
It was advised that where social distancing was not possible, companies should “consider whether that activity needs to continue for the site to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission.”
Site Operating Procedures
In order to comply with social distancing on site, the government’s recommendations were first published in version 1 on 24th March, followed by version 2 which was rapidly withdrawn and replaced with the 3rd version being published on 14th April to coincide with social distancing guidelines of 7th April.
The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) also endorsed a video setting out the newest ways to work safely.
The HSE (whose role is to enforce any breaches of guidance) emphasises that H&S on any construction site should not be compromised and are set to introduce consistent measures to protect workers and also minimise the risk of spreading the infection.
It has further been confirmed, employers have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest level practical.
A full risk assessment should be carried out and extensive measures put in place. In doing so, considerations include:
– Could employees work from home? If home working is not possible, workplaces should make every reasonable effort to ensure social distancing and keep people 2m apart where possible.
– Supplying face masks, gloves, and hand sanitiser as a minimum.
– Employers work with third-party employers or contractors sharing the workplace to ensure everybody’s health and safety is protected and the measures in doing so are aligned.
– Limit the use of lifts where possible
– Workers kept in the same group and avoid mixing
– Close canteens and break rooms where possible
– Hand washing facilities are kept well stocked and staff are requested to use frequently.
Such measures should also be reviewed at timely intervals to ensure compliance, and that the measures are working adequately.
Further measures may include staggered working patterns and travel to and from site. It should be noted that public travel is still only advised if essential (and it is the only form of transport to get to work).
Scotland adopted a more drastic approach and ceased all construction projects with the exception of essential public services and repair and maintenance of critical infrastructure.
Cashflow and Payments
With guidelines being updated daily and some workplaces slowly attempting to resume a sense of normality the CLC became increasingly concerned about payment in the supply chain.
The CLC makes clear that all construction businesses should continue to pay in line with the contract conditions and follow the clauses correctly.
Where reasonably possible, firms should not threaten to invoke penalty or contractual clauses.
It was further outlined that firms should be considering their actions in the long term and how poor behaviour now could damage credibility for a long time to come.
It is key to remember, all employers have a duty of care to ensure their employees are provided a safe environment to carry out their duties, and the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, should not be forgotten in this regard.
Employers should work to ensure each worker is given the best protection that can be provided.
For the full guide which was published on 11th May 2020 please visit:
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Contact our team for further support at [email protected] or 0115 9336131.
Please note. The information provided on this website is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and is for information purposes only. No action or inaction should be taken due to this information or any reliance placed upon this information. Please note where legal advice is required this should be obtained by an appropriate qualified legal practice and no information provided within this website should form the basis of any legal, contract or commercial decision. K J Taylor Consulting Ltd. are commercial quantity surveyors and not construction legal advisors.