Group tells industry to double down on checks to make sure sites are covid safe
The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has called on firms to review their covid-secure working arrangements to make sure standards don’t slip as the new, more contagious variant of the virus continues to spread.
The warning comes as the government comes under growing pressure to introduce stricter lockdown measures following a dramatic rise in death rates over the past two weeks.
Yesterday, the death toll from covid rose by a further 1,243 – bringing the overall number to more than 83,000 – while the number in hospital was up to 35,075. But the number of daily cases dropped for the second day in a row to just over 45,500.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has urged the government to consider restricting the operation of the housing market while in Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is considering shutting down “non-essential” construction sites north of the border to contain the new variant.
CLC co-chair Andy Mitchell said the industry has proven over the last year that it can maintain safe working environments on sites and in homes, builders’ merchants and product manufacturing facilities.
But he added: “The rapid spread of a more contagious variant of covid-19 means it is imperative that we all maintain the highest possible standards of control over how we operate, including compliance with the relevant procedures.
“I urge you all to review your current arrangements to make sure that this is so.”
He also issued an added warning for staff to only leave their homes for work if it is “essential” and cannot be done from home.
He said: “This is not about convenience or efficiency but about necessity, and again I urge you to critically challenge what works can genuinely not be done at home,” adding: “For the sake of our workforce, the general public around us, and the national economy, we have a huge responsibility to continue to get this right.”
Last week, it emerged that an architecture practice had been telling its staff that they must go into the office each day or face potential disciplinary action throughout both the November lockdowns and the latest one.
The firm On Architecture, which has offices in London and Kent, conceded on Friday last week that staff would be allowed to work from home after Building flagged workers’ concerns.
Despite the spiralling rate of deaths, which last week exceeded the numbers seen during the pandemic’s previous peak in April, the new business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote an open letter to the construction sector on Monday telling the industry to keep going: “It is vital that construction continues through these unsettling times and I want to reassure you that the government values the crucial contribution your sector is making.”
Last spring’s lockdown, which saw thousands of sites shut, saw GDP slump by a record 20% in April alone while in the three months to June, output for construction nosedived by 35%.
Andy Mitchell’s letter to construction firms
Hopefully you will by now have read The Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s letter of 11 January 2021 to the construction industry, and the Cabinet Office Guidance published on 4 January 2021 entitled “National lockdown: Stay at Home”.
Both documents make clear that companies and tradespeople in the construction sector and its supply chain, including builders’ merchants, suppliers and product manufacturers, should continue to operate during this national lockdown.
To ensure the construction industry operates safely, the CLC has developed a range of guidance (below) relating to social distancing, use of PPE and face coverings, the safe operation of site canteens, the safe operation of builders’ merchants, the use of public and private transport to work, and the use of temporary accommodation for workers, amongst other important matters. These are available at:
The Site Operating Procedures have been revised to Version 7 and the Branch Operating Guidelines to Version 4.1 to reflect the latest direction from the Government. The other documents remain unchanged.
Over the course of the last year, the construction industry has proven that it can introduce and maintain safe working environments on sites, when working in homes, in builders’ merchants and in product manufacturing facilities. However, the rapid spread of a more contagious variant of Covid19 means, it is imperative that we all maintain the highest possible standards of control over how we operate, including compliance with the relevant procedures. I urge you all to review your current arrangements to make sure that this is so.
One point that I would like to highlight from the Cabinet Office Guidance is that you can only leave home for work purposes where it is essential, and you cannot do your job from home. This is not about convenience or efficiency but about necessity, and again I urge you to critically challenge what works can genuinely not be done at home. For workers that do have to leave home for work purposes, it is essential that these workers carefully manage their journeys to work, in order to minimise impacts on public transport networks. It is also vital that those people in the industry who are in the clinically extremely vulnerable category are supported to work from home, and should not in any circumstances travel to work.
As an industry we have demonstrated we can control our operations so that the work we do can be done safely, in collective consistent compliance with the Site Operating Procedures and in accordance with Government direction. For the sake of our workforce, the general public around us, and the national economy, we have a huge responsibility to continue to get this right.
As I said in my previous letter - together I know that we can and we will continue to do what is needed of us.