Last updated: 1st June 2020
On the 10th May, Boris Johnson advised that tradespeople should return to work. Since then, the government has produced more detailed guidance for tradespeople working in people’s homes and onsite. You might be wondering whether it’s safe for you to return to work or have a few safety concerns if you’re already back working.
To help, we’ve summarised the latest government guidance for working safely in construction and outdoor work below. You can find the full government advice PDF, here. Note: this guidance applies to construction sites in England. In Scotland, the construction industry will be able to move to phase 2 of its route map out of lockdown from Monday 22nd June – a ‘soft start’ (i.e. phased return) where physical distancing can be maintained.
Should I go back to work onsite?
You should go to work if you can’t work from home, and avoid public transport to travel if possible. The exceptions are if you or someone you live with is ill with coronavirus symptoms, or you’re classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’.
- No work should be carried out if you or someone in your own household has coronavirus symptoms.
- If you’re classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’, it’s strongly advised that you don’t return to work onsite. If you’re ‘clinically vulnerable’, you should take extra care with social distancing and should be offered the safest available onsite roles where you can stay 2 metres away from others. If this isn’t possible, you and your employer should assess whether the risk is acceptable.
Is it safe to work on a construction site – what should my employer be doing to reduce my risk?
Businesses should carry out a risk assessment and work through steps to make sure they’re managing the risk of COVID-19. For larger businesses with 5 or more people, employers need to consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union, or if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by you and other workers. Once the risk assessment has been done, they should display the government’s certificate on the company website and share it with you and any clients.
Social distancing and good hygiene practices are really important for managing risk.
Steps that should be followed:
- Hygiene: Make sure hands are washed and surfaces are cleaned frequently.
- Make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option, for example for support staff.
- Where working from home isn’t possible, as is the case with many onsite workers, businesses should make every reasonable effort to comply with social distancing guidelines and keep people 2 metres apart.
- Where social distancing guidelines can’t be followed in full for an activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and if so, take actions to reduce the risk of transmission. That means making sure it’s completed as quickly as possible, increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning, using screens or barriers to separate people and using back-to-back or side-to-side working instead of face-to-face.
- They should also look at reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’. If people need to work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then employers should assess whether the activity can go ahead safely.
- It’s worth saying that social distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people may spend most of their time, so the 2 metre rule should be followed by entrances and exits and in break rooms and canteens too. Your business should look at staggering arrival and leaving times, and break times if it would help with social distancing. They can also look at ways to help you follow social distancing, like using one-way systems and putting ground markings on floors.
The good news for your employer is that building sites can now apply to their local planning authorities to extend working hours up to 9pm on Monday to Saturday in residential areas. The idea is that it’ll help to fit in those staggered work times without impacting on the amount of work that you can all get done.
What should I do if I don’t feel safe at work?
Nobody should feel forced to work in an unsafe environment. If you think there’s more your employer could do to keep you safe, speak to them directly first, or chat to your health and safety representative onsite if you have one. Tell them what needs to happen for you to feel safe at work.
If you’re still concerned after that, get in touch with the Health and Safety Executive, HSE. You can make an enquiry if you want to clarify the guidelines, or you can report a health and safety issue.
The government has recently introduced a Safe Working Charter together with the Home Builders Federation, to help construction sites reopen in a way that’s in line with health guidance. Companies can sign up to the Charter and commit to developing safe working practices. There’s no obligation to sign up but if your company has already signed up to it, it’s a clear sign that they’re committed to making sure work can go ahead safely.