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Construction, coronavirus and health & safety

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The construction sector is currently exempt from the Government list of businesses and industries which must close in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. 

It is not quite as easy as saying “keep calm and carry on” however. Even without COVID-19, the construction sector operates in a heavily regulated environment, of which health & safety is a key element. 

What, if anything has the COVID-19 crisis changed? 

Overarching obligations

The key responsibilities arise under the following legislation: 

  1. Sections 2 and 3 of the Health & Safety At Work Etc Act 1974 (“HSAW”) - The obligation to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of your employees and also contractors and visitors to your sites.
  2. Section 7 of HSAW - The obligation of employees to act responsibly in relation to their own health & safety and to the health & safety of those with whom they work.
  3. The Management of Health & Safety At Work Regulation 1999 – these Regulations encapsulate (amongst other things) the duties to carry out a risk assessment of all activities and to keep such assessments under review.
  4. Section 37 of HSAW – in simple terms Section 37 of HSAW provides for the personal liability of Directors, Officers of the Company and Managers where it can show that an offence which has been committed by the Company occurred as a consequence of an individual Directors etc consent, connivance or neglect. 

Building sites are busy places, which employ a great many people from different sectors and trades. Many will travel from outside the immediate locality of the site. Equally more advanced sites will have show homes and will be open in part to members of the public. In the light of Covid-19, all these issues need to be safely and appropriately managed if the site decides it wishes to keep on working / stay open. 

At the same time as taking steps to minimise the spread of infection, the health and safety requirements of any ongoing construction activity (in its widest sense) must also not be compromised. 

The basic rule which must be followed at all times remains essential in the current environment – if a construction activity cannot be carried out safely due to lack of relevant personnel at any level or as a consequence of social distancing then it should not take place. This may make certain construction activities difficult to manage and undertake. 

What are directors responsibilities in such circumstances?

Directors responsibilities

In the current climate, it is therefore essential that there is ongoing assessment and review of sites to ensure that the safe operation of those sites remains viable and that you can as a consequence demonstrate that you have fulfilled your health and safety responsibilities. 

Policies to implement and/or adapt

  1. Every site will need adapted or new policies in place to address the following issues:
  2. Self-isolation;
  3. Procedures if someone falls ill; 
  4. Travel to site including increased and appropriate parking arrangements with the decline of public transport use, hand cleaning at entrances and exits;
  5. Site access points should be reviewed – how you access and who accesses 
  6. Hand washing/hand sanitisation; 
  7. Toilet facilities – restricting communal use and making the facilities sufficient; 
  8. Canteens/eating arrangements / welfare arrangements. 
  9. Changing facilities - Social distancing/keeping clean; 
  10. Close working - work needs planning to minimise contact and maintain social distancing;
  11. Site Supervision and manpower – have you still got the people available to do the job safely, taking into account also the new requirements concerning social distancing.

Final thought

Taking all of the above into account, there will then be a decision to be made about whether sites can continue to operate safely in whole or in part – however, evaluating the risk and then introducing new procedures wherever necessary will enable a business to demonstrate it has fulfilled its statutory responsibilities in the event of any challenge. 

Events are however moving fast and things may  change on a daily basis so it is crucially important to keep all sites under daily review and prepared to change tack at short notice. 

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