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COVID-19: Practical tips to enforce social distancing on site

Construction / 15 April 2020

Whether construction workers should remain on sites during the coronavirus outbreak remains a key topic of conversation throughout the UK. Our Head of Construction, Lorna Carter, shared some practical tips for closing construction sites last week. For those businesses who are currently still open in accordance with the regulations imposed by government, we consider the importance of enforcing social distancing to avoid sanctions.

Guidance from Public Health England and the Construction Leadership Council for continuing work during COVID-19 stipulates social distancing of at least two metres between workers. If businesses do not follow this guidance, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned employers it will take urgent action, which may include enforcement action via a prohibition notice, i.e. shutting down some or all activity on site, or a fixed penalty fine for breaching the Coronavirus Regulations.

Whilst the HSE has suspended routine inspections of sites amid coronavirus safety fears, it has urged site workers to report any coronavirus-related site-safety concerns to the HSE or their local authority, particularly if their employer is ignoring what they have to say.

Practical tips to enforce social distancing
As a business, we therefore recommend you do all you can to enforce social distancing. Practical steps you could consider including:

– staggering start times to avoid congestion at the gates
– adopting new shift work patterns
– urge workers to drive or cycle alone to work and to avoid public transport (if possible)
– fingerprint scanners and other security systems that require touching should be disabled
– reduce the number of people in attendance at site inductions and hold them outdoors wherever possible

Keep records of the measures you have taken to enforce social distancing, including copies of all communications to your employees in respect of this guidance (emails, notices) as well as a list of the steps you have taken. This way, if the inspector calls, you are prepared.

Additional health and hygiene recommendations
In addition to social distancing requirements:
– employees must also have access to facilities to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
– antibacterial wipes should be made available on site to clean down shared plant machinery, equipment and tools after every use;
– the provision of PPE would not only mitigate the risk of employees catching COVID-19 on site, but also helping to prevent the spread, which is critical.

The practical realities of implementing social distancing and hygiene practices on busy sites are likely to be highly troublesome for thousands of businesses. Another legitimate concern is that, in implementing social distancing, pre-existing safety recommendations may be jeopardised – for example trying to tackle heavier loads than they should alone and what about administering first aid on site? With the HSE temporarily suspending site-inspections, in an already risky industry, there is a real concern that the number of accidents will increase.

These leaves construction businesses in a tricky predicament, with little guidance, and has undoubtedly led to the closure of many sites already.

Our Regulatory and Construction experts are on hand to provide urgent advice in respect of your duties on site relating to COVID-19 and health and safety generally. If the HSE contacts you as a result of reports from your employees, we can also help. Please do get in touch.

Visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub for insight and guidance to help you and your organisation during this complex time.

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