Over the lockdown period, guidance for construction workers has been changing rapidly and there has been room for interpretation of the guidance most recently provided by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC). Although many Contractors and Subcontractors initially closed (or scaled down) their sites when lockdown was announced on 22 March, most have gradually recommenced work having implemented the suggested measures. However, there has been increased worry that construction workers’ health is being put at risk.
According to Infrastructure Intelligence, UK Construction Union, Unite had previously written to the health secretary, calling for testing to be introduced for construction workers as many had continued to work during the lockdown and many sites have reopened or are re-opening.
Unite still remains “highly concerned” about revised operating procedures in construction issued by the CLC which follows the intervention by Public Health England, with the union claiming that the new advice “waters down social distancing rules and allow workers to work face to face for up to 15 minutes in some instances.”
On 28 April, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that construction workers are now eligible for targeted Covid-19 testing as they are amongst those workers who are unable to work from home. The eligibility for testing also applies to the workers’ immediate family.
Unite Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Unite is pleased that the government has supported Unite’s call to ensure that construction workers who continue to work can easily access testing for COVID-19.
“This will significantly help prevent the spread of the virus on construction sites.
“Testing alone however will not stop the spread of this deadly disease. It is imperative that construction workers are able to continually socially distance from when they leave home in the morning to when they return at night.
“The dangerous PHE guidance must be withdrawn and the Health and Safety Executive must step up to the plate and insist on procedures that require workers to social distance on sites at all times to reduce risks of infection.”
There has also been discussion of a possible extension of construction working hours.
The Sunday Telegraph reported last Sunday that construction sites will be allowed to temporarily extend their hours to operate (beyond the normal 8am-6pm Monday to Friday and 8am-1pm on Saturdays) during evenings and at weekends, under a change in the law being planned by ministers. The Government is (apparently) preparing to override restrictions preventing builders from carrying out loud work outside the typical working day, or on Sundays.
The Telegraph reports that the move is intended to allow construction firms to "catch up" on work as they begin returning to sites following an initial hiatus during the first weeks of the national lockdown.
Of course, until this change in law is announced, who knows whether these extended hours will be put in place with potentially even longer hours for construction workers?
We shall have to wait and see.