The government has, this week, published its COVID-19 recovery strategy. The first steps of this strategy, which apply in England from Wednesday 13 May 2020, are:
- Workers who can work from home should continue to do so.
- Workers that cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open, but they should avoid public transport where possible.
- Sectors of the economy, such as construction, that are allowed to be open, should be open and follow the relevant ‘COVID-19 Secure Guidelines’.
- It remains the case that anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, or who lives in a household where someone has symptoms, should not leave their house to go to work.
As a result of this, construction sites that had previously closed are now beginning to reopen, but what safety provisions do firms need to take into account in order to protect their workforce and minimise the risk of spreading the infection?
The government, in collaboration with industry, has produced guidance set out as objectives to ensure workplaces are as safe as possible. These are the COVID-19 Secure Guidelines which sets out a number of objectives.
In addition, the Construction Leadership Council released their latest set of site operating procedures on 14 April which advise on ‘Protecting your workforce during Coronavirus (Covid-19)’.
Who should make the decision about closing a site or restarting work?
Consideration about whether a site should remain open needs to be given on a site-by-site basis. These decisions should be made by the Principal Contractor under the Construction Design Management Regulations 2015. It is the responsibility of the Principal Contractor to manage site activity from a health and safety perspective.
However, all employers should carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. Employers need to assess and manage the risks of COVID-19. Employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety. The results of the risk assessment should be shared with the workforce and published on their website.
It is important to remember that the health and safety requirements of any construction activity must not be compromised. If an activity cannot be undertaken safely, it should not take place.
What extra safety measures do we need to implement on site during the coronavirus pandemic?
All employers need to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. They have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from a risk to their health and safety. Once the risk assessment has been completed, it should be shared with the workforce and, if possible, published on their website. You should remind those on site of the new safety measures using signage, and markers to maintain distancing.
At site entrances and exits, cleaning facilities need to be provided and all workers must be required to wash their hands regularly. It is important to maintain 2m social distancing where possible, therefore it may be useful to consider staggering start and finish times to avoid congestion and ensure any queues are practicing social distancing. Break times should also be staggered to reduce congestion and contact at all times.
For those who work in one location, workstations should be implemented and allocated to individuals to allow them to maintain social distancing wherever possible.
It is important to maintain good hygiene on site e.g. the inside of vehicle cabs should be cleaned between use by different operators.
The number of workers using toilet facilities at any one time should be restricted to ensure social distancing can be exercised. Cleaning regimes for toilet facilities should also be enhanced, particularly those surfaces that are touched by all workers e.g. door handles, lock and the toilet flush.
Dedicated eating areas should be introduced to limit contamination, with cleaning facilities provided, and all workers should sit at least two metres apart from each other. The break area should be cleaned after each break. Crockery, eating utensils and cups should not be used. If catering is provided on site, it should be pre-prepared, wrapped food only. Drinking water should be provided but enhanced cleaning procedures should be introduced.
What should we do if a worker falls sick with coronavirus symptoms?
Any worker who meets one of the following criteria should not come to site:
- They have a high temperature or a new persistent cough.
- They are a vulnerable person due to their age, underlying health condition, clinical condition or are pregnant.
- They are living with someone in self-isolation or a vulnerable person.If a worker currently on site develops a high temperature or new persistent cough whilst at work, they should avoid touching anything, go home immediately and follow the self-isolation guidelines.
If you are concerned that a worker diagnosed with COVID-19 may have contracted it through exposure on site, please read the section below: Reporting of work-related instances of COVID-19
Is there any guidance on how workers should travel to a construction site if they are continuing to work during the coronavirus outbreak?
Wherever possible, workers should travel to sites using their own transport. Therefore, firms may have to consider on-site parking facilities so that workers can avoid public transport.
How do I ensure workers practice social distancing?
Firms should plan their work and organise their employees to minimise contact between workers. There should be no work carried out that requires skin-to-skin contact and work that requires close contact between workers should only be carried out if essential.
Re-usable PPE should be thoroughly cleaned after each use and not shared between workers, and single use PPE should be disposed of so that it cannot be re-used.
What if my company cannot achieve 2m distancing for all our on-site activities?
Where close working cannot be avoided, you should carry out a risk assessment prior to commencing, work should be limited to less than 15 minutes, you should minimise the workers involved in these tasks, reduce the number of people each person has contact with by using fixed teams or partners and workers should be side-by-side rather than face-to-face. Screens and barriers should also be used to separate people from each other where possible.
Where they can, employers should increase ventilation in enclosed spaces and lower the worker capacity of lifts and hoists to reduce congestion.
The use of respiratory protective equipment should be used as a last resort in the hierarchy of mitigation measures.
As mentioned above, firms should ensure they regularly clean common areas and touchpoints, such as doors, handles, vehicle cabs and equipment. Workers should also be advised to wash their hands before and after touching equipment.
It may also be worth providing additional supervision to manage compliance for the above activities.
What are the client’s responsibilities?
In relation to COVID-19 related issues, the client should maintain an oversight role. This includes:
- checking that the contractor has appropriate health and safety arrangements and site rules and has made any modifications needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is not the client’s role to ensure the measures are imposed or to get too involved in the detail of what the contractor has put in place. However, the client should be satisfied that the procedures in place appear to follow the guidance;
- being satisfied that their contractor is taking reasonable steps to ensure that the arrangements are being implemented and enforced. Confirmation may be sought as part of the contractor’s regular reporting procedures, via project progress meetings or written updates; and
- checking that the contractor has consulted with their workers and that they understand what the requirements are and their responsibilities.
Reporting of work-related instances of COVID-19
On 2 April 2020, the Health and Safety Executive issued new guidance to assist businesses identifying work-related instances of COVID-19 that require reporting under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 ("RIDDOR").
It is important to note that the regulations themselves have not changed, but the HSE has taken the view that they should be applied to the COVID-19 outbreak.
What does the HSE's guidance say?
The guidance confirms that a responsible person "must only make a report under RIDDOR when:
An unintended incident at work has led to someone's possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence, or
a worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.
A worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus".
The HSE has provided requirements and examples in its guidance as to what needs reporting. It is important to review this to understand what is required.
Sites will need to ensure that firstly, they have the facilities in place and secondly, they implement procedures to ensure that workers adhere to the guidance. Additional site cleaning is also an essential element of ensuring compliance.
If you are concerned that workers may have contracted COVID-19 as a result of an unintended incident or exposure at work, it is important to refer to the guidance provided by HSE and if unsure, seek legal advice.
Working safely during Covid-19 – Construction and other Outdoor Work
COVID-19: what you need to do
Support for businesses and employers during coronavirus (COVID-19)
Construction Leadership Council - Site operating procedures
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