On 23rd March, the UK government announced a national lockdown. Within this announcement the country were told to only go to work if they were classed as an essential worker, or if they could not possibly work from home. Within the construction sector, many sites shut down to ensure the safety of workers. Throughout this time, tradespeople working within people’s homes were still allowed to work on essential tasks as well as within empty houses on renovation projects. As the situation developed, from 13th May, the UK government announced a lockdown exit strategy and within this encouraged all workers in England who could not work from home, both essential and non-essential, to go back to work where possible. This announcement has meant that for tradespeople and those working within construction, the majority of work will resume and with this comes new guidance on safety at work, social distancing measures and ensuring the workplace is ‘Covid-19 Secure’.
The update given on 10th May is only applicable to those living and working in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all made their own decisions on continuing with lockdown.
Where the UK government has moved to a message of ‘stay alert’, the Scottish government has maintained the message of ‘stay home’ which effectively means lockdown rules remains as they were throughout April. Essential businesses remain open and tradespeople, such as plumbers or electricians, may only carry out essential repairs. For now, the wider position surrounding construction and manufacturing going back to work has not changed in Scotland, with workers actively being encouraged to stay at home.
Much like Scotland, the Welsh First Minister has made the decision to not to lift lockdown in line with England. Whilst there were minor changes made to the exercise rules, the message largely remains the same; people are not encouraged to go back to work.
In a similar manner to both Wales and Scotland, Northern Ireland has chosen to maintain their ‘stay home’ messaging and have extended their lockdown, as it currently stands, to 28th May.
Construction and Outdoor Work
The government has published specific guidance relating to construction and other outdoor work; this includes construction, energy and utilities, farming and agriculture, forestry, waste management, railway services and street and highway services. The new guidance provided by the UK government details that everyone who cannot work from home should go to work; therefore, those within both construction and manufacturing are actively encouraged to go back to work. This does not apply to those who have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable; those individuals are still being told to stay at home. Those who are clinically vulnerable, but not extremely, can go back to work but should be offered the safest roles on the site if they choose to do so.
Planning should be done to allow for the minimum amount of people on site at one time. This can be done by utilising people with more than one skillset and those who are necessary to carry out physical work.
Risk must be managed effectively. In regard to Covid-19 this means working through the following steps:
- Increased frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
- Where possible, working from home should be the first option. However, where it is not possible, workplaces must make every possible effort to comply with social distancing of 2m.
- In regard to activities which cannot maintain social distancing rules, it should be considered whether this activity is necessary for business continuity. If so, all mitigating action should be taken to reduce risk.
- Mitigating actions include handwashing, surface cleaning, reducing activity time, using screens or barriers to separate people, introduce back-to-back or side-to-side working rather than face-to-face, reduce the number of people an individual has contact with.
- Employees should be made aware that nobody is obliged to work in an unsafe environment.
Within the government guidelines there is a a notice which must be displayed, which shows the business has followed and adhered to the guidance and that the business is ‘Covid-19 Secure’.
Working in People’s Homes
There are multiple trades which would require an individual to work in other people’s homes; from performing essential work and repairs to electrics, water systems and structure or even performing meter readings and surveying. As there are so many professions which may work in other people’s homes, the list is by no means exhaustive.
There are likely many different employment circumstances for those who work in people’s homes, self-employment, employment and agency work. Employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety. Therefore, a risk assessment should be carried out; to recognise the risk and do everything practical to minimise it whilst acknowledging you cannot completely mitigate the risk of Covid-19.
For those with less than 5 workers, or who are self-employed, the risk assessment does not need to be written down, but it will just help determine whether you have done everything you can to mitigate risk. The same guidance which applies to construction and outdoor work in terms of being ‘Covid-19 Secure’ applies to working in other houses, as much as is possible. In addition, there are further steps to take when working in homes.
- No work should be carried out in a home where one or more people are isolating due to symptoms of Covid-19. Work should also not be carried out in the home of someone who is ‘shielding’ unless it is to fix something which is a direct risk to their safety or the safety of their household.
- Be aware that when visiting the household of someone who is classed as vulnerable but is not shielding that they should not have any face-to-face contact wherever possible. Make sure to be strict about handwashing and general hygiene.
- In addition, make sure to maintain all the government guidelines on hygiene and social distancing by washing your hands, covering your mouth if you cough or sneeze, cleaning surfaces and objects regularly and make sure to communicate and discuss plans with the household prior to any visit to minimise risk for everyone.
The heating and plumbing industry offers an essential service which must continue in order to supply heating and hot water to homes across the UK as well as to schools, businesses and hospitals among other key facilities.
In relation to tradespeople within this profession carrying out work in people’s homes; this can continue as long as the tradesperson in question does not have symptoms and is well. They should comply with social distancing guidelines and remain 2 metres from household members and avoid any contact such as handshaking. It is best practice to communicate with the household over the phone prior to work taking place to ensure the household is well and risks are minimal. Planning ahead allows you to ensure your own safety and the safety of the household in question.
Throughout the various stages of lockdown, the UK governments position on construction and related trades has been that work can continue. Under this guidance, electricians are able to continue to work as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines and follow guidelines to ensure their health and safety.
As with other tradespeople working in people’s homes, electricians are allowed to work in people’s homes where a repair or maintenance work is required.
On 23rd March when UK lockdown was announced, the FMB stated that only emergency and critical construction work should be allowed to continue. This could include renovation projects where the planning permission could expire or projects which could be dangerous or unusable if left incomplete. In these instances, joiners were able to continue work where a 2-metre social distance could be maintained.
Since, in England, people were encouraged to go back to work if they could not work from home, this provides opportunity for joiners and carpenters to resume work which they may have previously put on hold, where social distancing can be maintained and where it is safe to do so.
The NFRC has provided specific guidance for those working in the roofing trade during the pandemic. As with other construction related trades, the government did not request work stop however the FMB did advise that only emergency and critical construction work continue. Therefore, repairs could still take place where necessary but in general, many construction sites ceased work and shut during the national lockdown.
In England, as of 13th May, these sites are being reopened as people who cannot work from home are urged to go back to work. It is essential that employers ensure the site is ‘Covid-19 Secure’ and comply with social distancing and hygiene guidance. It is important that safety be of paramount importance, and workers can refuse to work if they feel their safety is at risk.
In line with guidance provided by the Federation of Master Builders, construction sites which were not considered essential or critical closed during the UK national lockdown to ensure the safety of their workers and the public. Whilst this was not stipulated by the UK government, it was the general consensus that only essential work would continue. However, since the government urged those in England to return to work as of 13th May, many sites are beginning to reopen having assessed their ability to do so safety. With reduced team sizes to allow for proper social distancing and with addition ‘Covid-19 Secure’ measures in place.
As with anyone working during the pandemic, safety is paramount, and you should not feel unsafe at work.
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