Govt releases 'back to work' guidance for construction and outdoor sites

15/05/2020
Dominic Browne

The Government has published guidance for employers and staff on how to get back to work safely in construction and outside sites.

It recommends a range of actions outlined in full below, including using back-to-back working and keeping people in fixed teams.

The news comes after the Highways Sector Council published its own sector-specific guidelines during the lockdown, as the roads industry was asked to maintain a business as usual approach as much as possible throughout the crisis.

Another measure already announced by ministers is to allow construction sites to stay open until 9pm in residential areas.

The Government said that developers should expect their local planning authority to grant temporary changes to construction working hours until 9pm or later, six days a week, wherever possible.

This applies to England only and any temporary changes to construction working hours should not extend beyond 13th May 2021.

Risk management

Employers must carry out risk assessment to address the risks of COVID-19, using the government guidance to inform decisions and control measures.

If you have fewer than five workers, or are self-employed, you don’t have to write anything down as part of your risk assessment.

There are interactive tools available to support the process from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at https://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/assessment.htm.

The guidance warns: 'Where the enforcing authority, such as the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] or your local authority, identifies employers who are not taking action to comply with the relevant public health legislation and guidance to control public health risks, they will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks.'

This would cover employers not taking appropriate action to socially distance, where possible. The actions the HSE can take include the provision of specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements.

Employers have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures.

The guidance makes the following headline recommendations:

  • In every workplace, increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
  • Businesses and workplaces should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make every reasonable effort to comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the government (keeping people 2m apart wherever possible).
  • Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff.

Further mitigating actions include:

  • Increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning.
  • Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible.
  • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.
  • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible.
  • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others).
  • Finally, if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then you will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.
  • In your assessment you should have particular regard to whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
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