New construction guidance issued as sector begins tentative return



Scotland’s contractors have been instructed to follow physical distancing and strict health & safety guidelines as the industry took its first steps out of lockdown today.

Newly updated COVID-19: construction sector guidance was issued by the Scottish Government in the wake of yesterday’s announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that site preparation work can now begin.

The guidance states: “Easing restrictions will not mean returning to how things were before the virus. Physical distancing, hand hygiene, and other critical behaviours will be essential in each area to ensure public and workforce confidence.

“We continue to work with business and employee representatives, seeking to learn from successful working practices on essential sites, looking for industry to develop innovative processes to support new ways of working, and also learning from examples from around the world. We are working closely with Health Protection Scotland to ensure that the health and wellbeing of individuals continues to be our priority as we work together on the managed restart of the sector.”

Industry leadership group Construction Scotland also published the updated construction re-start plan and its latest guidance, which instructs contractors to “consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers”.

It states: “As an employer, you cannot decide who the representative will be.”

The Scottish Government added that its joint statement with Police Scotland, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities provides further details on safe workplaces.

This guidance will be updated and reviewed as required in consultation with the sector’s employers and unions.

Suggestions for how to improve the guidance can be made to the Construction Policy Team at covid.construction@gov.scot.  

“It is for individual businesses in conjunction with trade union or workforce representatives to decide how best to successfully adopt and adapt guidance for their individual circumstances,” the government added.

Welcoming the new guidance, minister for local government, planning and housing, Kevin Stewart, said: “With the gradual easing of lockdown it is vitally important that we publish updated guidance for the construction sector to help it restart safely and recover from the damaging impact of COVID-19.

“The focus of the Scottish Government remains on tackling the virus, protecting public health and saving lives, but we are also acutely aware of the need to support vital sectors of the economy, such as construction, as they begin to recover.

“In recent weeks we have worked tirelessly with representative bodies, employers and trade unions from the construction sector to prepare guidance that is clear and realistic and I am pleased that businesses can now begin planning and preparing sites for restart. Future progress will clearly depend on our ability to continue to control COVID-19 transmission rates.

“This guidance also emphasises the importance of ongoing risk assessment with full input from trade union or workforce representatives and to keep all risk mitigation measures under regular review so that workplaces continue to feel, and be, safe.

“In parallel to the preparation of this guidance, Construction Scotland has published Site Operating Guidance and a Restart Model for the industry and I am very grateful to them for the significant work that has gone into producing those documents.

“The measured approach laid out in this guidance and the construction sector’s own restart plan provide a clear pathway to a phased restart of construction work in coming weeks and months.”

Gordon Nelson

Following the announcement, FMB Scotland has raised concerns that projects in Scotland may suffer shortages of key materials because much will have been redirected south of the border.

Director Gordon Nelson believes there is a need for further government support and expressed concern over rogue builders operating across Scotland.

He told The Times: “The situation in England, which is at least a couple of weeks ahead, means there is likely to be materials shortages in Scotland.

“I know from talking to members that they have lost work because the less professional aspect of the industry are going out to do work.

“They are reporting they expected to have work lined up over the next couple of weeks, but it is already under way by firms ignoring the guidance. The fear is the less professional element are taking advantage of the situation.”

Scotland’s property industry said it was relieved to see the recovery plan taken forward and called for trust and collaboration with the Scottish Government as it prepares to deliver safe working places.

Robin Blacklock

Robin Blacklock, Scottish Property Federation chair and MD at Dowbrae Property Consultancy, said: “The real estate industry is relieved to see the start of a firm path to recovery signalled today by the First Minister. The sector will continue to prioritise safe operating and business practises for its employees, contractors and clients.

“The construction sector has worked hard to develop detailed safe working practises. We encourage the government to press ahead as quickly as possible with the sector’s advice on a gradual return to work for construction and building works. The critical decision will be between now and Phase 2 and it is not clear how or when that decision will be made.

“This week’s retail guidance is also welcome, but we feel the emphasis should be on ensuring retail facilities can trade safely, rather than on the size of the property. 

“We are entering a critical period as we move towards the more substantive Phase 2 of the route map. With government collaboration, the real estate sector should be trusted to adopt safe, innovative and flexible working practises in order to get the economy moving again and to secure crucial jobs and investment.”

Julie Moulsdale

Construction communications expert Julie Moulsdale, MD of Perceptive Communicators, added: “The Scottish construction sector contributes over £21.5bn to Scotland’s GDP and employs 10% of the workforce. It also supports the wider economy in this country because every construction pound generates a further £2.94.

“(Yesterday’s) announcement by the First Minister, while stopping short of green-lighting a return to construction quite yet, nevertheless provides welcome clarity of what is and what is not allowed for now. But in the rush to get sites prepared to re-open from an operational perspective, it is important that construction companies remember to communicate what is happening - and how it will affect people.

“Clear communication about revised health and safety procedures is vital to protect staff and subcontractors – and will save lives. Now is the time to ensure that messages are clear, timely and understood by all audiences – before anyone goes anywhere near their workplace.  Involving union reps at this stage is important, too, as they can help spread the word.

“Not everyone absorbs information in the same way so construction companies are advised to adopt different formats and approaches – think graphics, step by step guides and so on.   Short videos work well as they are easily understood and familiar. You need to be explicit about the behaviours that are required - and what’s not allowed. Test the messaging hard before opening a site and remove any ambiguity. The more questions you get, the less clear your instructions are.

“Once you’ve dealt with staff and contractors, think about your wider audiences, and end customers too.  Most of them have been in lockdown for months, so they need to feel safe on your premises.

“Communications is one of the few things we can control right now. By getting it right construction companies have the best chance of a safe and steady return to full working.”

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