Common sense will be key to ensuring builders’ safety on self build and renovation sites, and adhere to new workplace guidelines, according to homebuilding firms. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the construction sector in England to “go to work” this week, with construction workers among those being actively encouraged to return to work on Wednesday. 

By extension, those involved in the supply chain and manufacturing of self build and renovation services and cannot work from home (such as oak frame manufacturers), are too being encouraged to return to work providing it’s safe to do so.

To ensure builders’ safety, the government released its new workplace safety guidelines this week, with a specific set of recommendations for the construction sector.

Among the recommendations:

  • Construction firms must consider which staff they need on site, and support staff should be told to work from home where possible
  • Building site access should be restricted to encourage social distancing, while jobs and equipment rotation should be reduced
  • Break times, arrival times and shift patterns should be staggered
  • Hand sanitiser and cleaning should be available, especially for cleaning shared tools or vehicles, such as forklift trucks and pallet trucks.

Ben Albright, sales director of oak frame self build specialist Border Oak, said of the guidelines: “To try and write a one-size-fits-all document is not easy, but the guidelines mostly reiterate what we already know. If firms use common sense then it shouldn’t be difficult to implement and for workers to feel safe.”

Ian McCarthy, sales director at timber frame manufacturers Timber Innovations, believes that the onus is now on homebuilding and construction companies to abide by the guidelines.

“The guidelines try to address the major concerns,” McCarthy told Homebuilding & Renovating. “The guidance is still fairly clear, keep a safe distance and make it safe to operate, and think about the individuals involved in the task. While this makes things more complicated, firms need to consider what can and can’t be done in regards to meeting the guidelines.”

(MORENew Construction Guidelines Welcomed by NaCSBA, Providing Workers are Safe)

Implementing Safety Measures

Albright added that for construction workers to feel safe, firms need to assess whether they can effectively implement the safety measures. If not, then firms should deliberate on whether it’s safe for workers to be on building sites, in offices or in manufacturing factories. 

“If you can’t do things safely then you have to assess whether it’s critical that your company continues to operate. If it is critical then you need to do a further risk assessment and work out how you can do it within an acceptable level of risk. It’s like all health and safety, we need to be sensible.”

The government this week urged that face-covering masks should be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible, and Albright stresses that common sense again needs to prevail in case of doubt on building sites. 

“If you’re outside fitting some boarding and you’re the only person on site, then you probably don’t need to wear a mask; if you’re in the property and there are 10 other people working then you should probably wear one. But, ultimately, if it makes you feel more comfortable then firms should supply masks. It’s just common sense.”

(MOREHow is the Covid-19 Pandemic Affecting Building Projects?)

Furlough Scheme Extended

Many construction workers and manufacturers have been working during lockdown, while some will be returning on Wednesday, but for those furloughed workers the government on Tuesday confirmed that the state will continue to pay their wages until October.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed that employees will continue to receive 80% of their monthly wages up to £2,500, but added that the government will ask companies to start sharing the cost of the scheme from August.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) had called for the scheme to be extended – it was set to expire at the end of the month – and stressed that it should phased out rather than completely stopped.

The CLC says that more than eight out of 10 firms in the construction industry have used the scheme, which now covers around 7.5 million workers.

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