COVID-19: Social distancing at work

The government has published sector-specific social distancing guidance for employers. In addition to construction work and tradespeople and working in people's homes, the guidance covers a wide range of businesses (manufacturing and processing businesses, retail and shops running a pick-up or delivery business, logistics businesses, outdoor businesses, farming, fishing, cargo-shipping or other long-term offshore work, transport businesses and waste management businesses).

In terms of construction, the overriding message is that work can continue if done in accordance with the Public Health England (PHE) social distancing guidelines wherever possible. Where that is not possible in relation to a particular activity, employers should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the site to continue to operate and, if so, take mitigating action to reduce the risk of transmission.

If work is to continue, frequent and thorough handwashing remains essential and staff are advised to do so "especially after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing, on arrival at work, before and after eating, after using public transport, and when they arrive home", as well as, "before getting into enclosed machinery (such as diggers) with others, and ... every time they get out".

Employers are reminded to tell staff that they should still remain two meters apart as much as possible and contact should be kept to a minimum, with any essential face-to-face contact kept to 15 minutes or less wherever possible. Also, work teams should be kept as small as possible and windows of vehicles and enclosed machinery kept open for ventilation.

The government has been criticised for being slow to provide guidance to the construction industry about what work can and should continue. This guidance may not silence that criticism but makes it clear that construction work plays an important role and must be allowed to continue. However, it does not go as far as the Scottish Government, which has said construction work should not continue unless it is part of a Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sector, which is "necessary for the functioning of the country and the delivery of the essential services".

It has been reported that the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) is preparing a revised version of its site operating procedures to reflect this new government guidance.

For more information on employment related matters, please contact Rebecca Ryan.

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