Construction Released From Lockdown But Sector Remains Concerned

Boris Johnson’s Sunday ‘exit phase’ announcement has insisted that those who are unable to work from home should be actively encouraged to return to their places of work from Wednesday. In the majority, this will mean factories and construction sites are the first wave of businesses being told to reopen using ‘new normal’ operating processes.

New ways of working will include discouraging staff from using public transport, staggered shift patterns to reduce the number of people working, rethink how essential construction equipment is shared and used and create safe working routes to ensure people remain socially distant when working.

Despite the limited time the construction has been given to plan a safe return to work, the sector may also struggle to restart given the continued lockdown other areas of the construction sector are facing.

According to the Federation of Master Builders recent survey, over two thirds of respondents are facing supply chain issues which will impact the immediate restart the government anticipate.

There is also a concern that PPE and safety measures have not been considered well enough for the construction sector. Over half of respondents (57 per cent) do not feel it will be possible to work safely on construction sites without detailed governmental guidelines.

This sentiment has been echoed by other commercial organisations who feel that guidance is vague and create present barriers to safe working practices.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said:

“Today’s fall in construction output matches our members’ experience of the past few months. 96% of local builders have stopped work on site since the coronavirus hit the UK. They’ve been unable to access materials, including PPE, and it has been challenging to maintain social distancing rules on site that keep themselves and the public safe. 40% of clients have requested work to stop.

“To ensure a safe return to work, and fire up construction, the public needs a clear, and joined-up, statement from Government that indoor and outdoor construction is safe. Builders need guaranteed access to PPE, and we look to the Government to coordinate this, so that limited PPE is not taken away from the health front line.

“In the longer-term, construction needs a clear plan for recovery – something the construction sector is working towards delivering. This must include a national retrofit strategy that harnesses capacity in the SME sector to upgrade the energy efficiency of people’s homes. It needs to tackle poor payment practises in the supply chain to support growth. And it must boost local planning departments to help local house builders bring forward new homes more quickly.”

Adam Marshall, director of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

“Businesses will need to see detailed plans for the phased easing of restrictions, coordinated with all nations across the UK and supported by clear guidance.

“It is imperative that companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace, including clarity on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).”

Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said:

“This announcement marks the start of a long process. While stopping work was necessarily fast and immediate, restarting will be slower and more complex. It must go hand in hand with plans for schools, transport, testing and access to PPE. Firms will want to see a roadmap, with dates they can plan for.”

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