Simone Young: Preparation is key in reopening Scottish construction

While lockdown is in effect, construction companies should continue to maintain their operations and also focus on what they need to start putting in place to prepare to a phased return to operations, writes Simone Young.

Simone Young: Preparation is key in reopening Scottish construction

Simone Young

During his announcement on Sunday evening, the Prime Minister outlined how restrictions on construction workers in England can be lifted as long as there are measures in place to ensure social distancing on building sites. This is, of course, welcome news for most construction firms which are keen to get operations restarted after the past two months which have been disastrous for the sector.

The recently published Purchasing Managers’ Index survey (PMI) revealed that since lockdown measures went into effect, construction output in the UK has declined more rapidly than at any time in the past 23 years. 86% of construction industry respondents have reported a reduction in their business since March.

The Scottish Government is taking a more cautious approach than the UK Government in relaxing lockdown restrictions, including the reopening of non-essential building sites. However, the momentum from south of the border suggests that Scottish-based workers could also return to work in the not too distant future.

The measures set out in existing guidance published by the Construction Leadership Council are helpful for any sites that are gearing up to be reopened. It is, however, important for Scottish-based firms to also review the coronavirus construction sector guidance published by the Scottish Government which is expected to be updated as the restrictions are formally lifted here. In preparation for reopening, companies should be reviewing the current Scottish Government guidance on enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures in the workplace and consider how these requirements can be implemented on site.

It’s also important to ensure that materials will be available from suppliers as and when the Scottish Government programme permits a reopening of sites. At this moment, as sites lie dormant, contractors should be getting in touch with their suppliers to confirm that the materials they require are available. If they are not, they need to begin sourcing alternative materials or resequencing works where alternatives cannot be found.

A further consideration for Scottish construction companies is whether their works need to be either reprogrammed or resequenced to accommodate effective social distancing on site. The implementation of social distancing measures is likely to mean that fewer operatives will be allowed on site at any one time. This will, in turn, likely lead to reduced productivity and works taking longer than normal to complete. The introduction of shift working may provide part of the solution but, given the constraints of permitted site working hours, this is unlikely to fully address the delays, which will then need to be factored in to contract programmes.

Another key challenge for construction employers will be the need for them to ensure sufficient supplies of PPE, including gloves and face masks, are available to workers on site. Given the current high global demand for protective equipment, companies will need to ensure they have a reliable source for this now if they have not yet done so.

This is also a good time for construction companies to review contractual obligations to ensure they have served any required contract notices as and when these are required. This must be done in accordance with the contract terms, in key areas such as restart terms and claims for additional time and/or money required due to the lockdown.

Unlike the position south of the border, the Scottish construction sector has not yet been given the green light to get back to work. When that does happen, activity will progress within a very changed working environment which will be closely regulated and monitored. Now is the time for companies to prepare so they can ensure they are fully compliant when they are permitted to resume building projects across the country. 

  • Simone Young is head of construction at law firm Davidson Chalmers Stewart

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

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