Laura McCorquodale: Construction getting back to work safely as lockdown begins to ease

Laura McCorquodale: Construction getting back to work safely as lockdown begins to ease

Laura McCorquodale

As the Scottish Government prepares to update its COVID-19 construction sector guidance, Laura McCorquodale details the industry’s six-phase plan to resume work.

A six-phase plan has been drawn up for construction work to resume in Scotland as lockdown begins to ease from the end of this week.

The Scottish Government has confirmed that it is accelerating work to update its Coronavirus (COVID-19): construction sector guidance which was originally published on May 1. The updated guidance will reflect the proposed Construction Re-Start Model produced by the Construction Leadership Forum and these six steps will be the basis upon which construction works will be permitted to resume:

  • Phase 0: Planning
  • Phase 1: COVID-19 Pre-start Site prep
  • Phase 2: “Soft start” to site works (only where physical distancing can be maintained)
  • Phase 3: Steady state operation (only where physical distancing can be maintained)
  • Phase 4: Steady state operation (where physical distancing can be maintained and/or with PPE use)
  • Phase 5: Increasing density/productivity with experience

Phase 0 - planning

Work on the planning required under Phase 0 is reported to be progressing well. The Construction Leadership Forum has been collating information from across the Scottish construction sector to assist contractors with the preparation of site assessments for Covid-19 modifications and developing the necessary new safe operating procedures, risk assessments and method statements.

Some of Scotland’s biggest contractors have shared their documentation on this forum and there is also generic advice from other construction industry bodies. This is a valuable resource and, although some documentation will be site specific, its availability will reduce the duplication of effort in producing appropriate safety procedures and risk assessments.

Phase 1 – pre-start site prep

It is anticipated that Phase 1 will commence after the Scottish Government’s review on 28 May. This phase involves facilitating physical distancing and enhanced hygiene, including installing new or expanding existing site welfare and toilet facilities, “one way” systems and marking 2m distancing throughout the site.

Phase 2 – “soft start” to site works with physical distancing

Depending on the evidence emerging from the initial stages and subject to Health and Safety statutory requirements being satisfied, Phase 2 – Soft Start, will commence involving a phased return of a proportion of the workforce.

The type of work undertaken at this stage will be limited, for example it is specified that no element of non-essential works which require the use of PPE above the standard industry use will commence at this stage.

Phase 2 will only proceed with government agreement and the current indications are that this approval won’t be given until a minimum of two weeks after the publication of updated advice, though the government is keeping this under review.

Phase 3 and beyond

Progress to Phase 3 and beyond will depend on a range of factors, including the industry’s ability to demonstrate fully compliant working practices in place, the confidence of the workforce and its trade union representatives in those arrangements, and wider supporting health data.

The road to full operation of construction works in Scotland looks likely to be a long one. The health and safety of those working in the industry is the top priority and all contractors and consultants with responsibility for safe site operations will need to be ready to demonstrate that appropriate measures are in place before works can recommence and can, in time, be safely scaled back up to normal levels.

  • Laura McCorquodale is senior associate at Harper Macleod

Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.

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