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COVID-19: What does it mean for the construction industry?

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  • Guidance, information and new developments can be found online at GOV.UK

On Monday 23rd March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation in response to the quickly developing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. There he introduced new temporary regulations requiring the British public to stay home except for specific circumstances.

The single most important action we can all take in fighting the coronavirus, is to stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives. The government’s current measures that will be running for a minimum of three weeks are:

1.    People to stay at home, except for very limited purposes
2.    The closure of all non-essential shops and community spaces
3.    Banning all gatherings of more than two people in public

It’s worth noting that gatherings are permitted where essential for work purposes (such as hospitals), but workers should try to minimise gatherings and adhere to social distancing where possible.
Travelling to and from work, the doctors and essential food supplies is permitted, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

 

But what does this mean for construction?

While everyone is encouraged to work from home, it is simply not possible in many roles. To help minimise the spread of the virus shops, restaurants and dozens of other businesses have been ordered to close. A full list of businesses and premises that must be closed is available here.

Construction workers are one of many groups that predominantly cannot work from home.

At the time of writing, construction and building sites are not on the list of closures and are still allowed to be open as normal – with the recommendation that social distancing be applied (individuals should stay at least 2 metres at all times).

This, however, is hotly contested.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said to the BBC: “The government is saying construction workers should go to work, I disagree.

“I’ve worked on a construction site. It’s very difficult to keep the two-metre distance.”

He added that if construction was there for a safety reason “that’s critical and it should carry on. But a lot of construction isn’t critical or essential.”

 


 

Some employers are taking head however, such as Taylor Wimpey who have announced that all site will be closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst its 16,000 workers.

A large concern however is that many construction workers are employed on a self-employed or sub-contractor basis and therefore may not qualify for financial assistance from the government.

 

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said to the BBC: “Photos of crowded construction canteens will horrify the general public and in particular the loved ones of construction workers who fear for their safety.

“No worker should be put at risk by travelling to work, while on site, in any welfare area or undertaking any non-critical designated work.

“However, with well over a million construction workers being officially registered as self-employed, they have a stark choice of working or they and their families facing hunger.”

 

Developing situation

As COVID-19 spreads and the death toll tragically rises, we are hopeful that the situation for the construction industry will change.

But in the mean-time, distance yourself as much as possible, wash your hands and stay safe.

 

 

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