In the undertaking building work guide:
Who must NOT work?
Clarity around contracts
Health and safety
Safety on site
Working in a home with owners
As England begins to ease off of the stay-at-home restrictions, the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA) has put together the following guidance to assist both individual self builders and companies when undertaking building work.
Government guidance in England never called for building sites to be closed, as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma pointed out in his 31 March letter to the construction industry. However, he acknowledged the need for safe working practices to underpin all decisions with regards to working on site.
In spite of this, many companies and individuals ceased working, either through a desire to stay safe or through an inability to operate during the crisis.
This guide is intended to support self builders and businesses about what practices they should be following to ensure they are operating safely. It is intended as a signposting document to support businesses and individuals in their decisions about how they return to work, and draws extensively on a range of industry knowledge. But ultimately, each site is the responsibility of the owners and/or main contractors.
The priority on any building site is people’s safety, which should be the first principle for all activity, and every decision should be weighed against this.
However, NaCSBA believes that with good practice building activity can and should continue, as it represents a valuable flow of work for the local and wider economy. Custom and self build have a core role in helping the country to return to economic health, supporting Government objectives and providing a crucial supply of new homes.
The rules in Scotland are completely different, and practices in Wales and Northern Ireland may vary so check the sections below and follow national advice.
NaCSBA has published information around planning, and below you will find more information about undertaking work.
In addition, NaCSBA has been providing weekly updates on the sector to Government, reporting barriers for the sector during the crisis. If you have a specific question or would like to share your experiences please email us.
The Government has producing a new set of COVID-19 Secure Guidance for work, that sets out parameters for work, as well as advice for assessing risk, to work out if an activity can be conducted safely.
Returning to work
There is plenty of guidance from Government and major industry bodies to advise larger development sites, much of which can be applied to smaller sites as well.
The first point of call for professional support is the Construction Leadership Council which is on Version 3 of its Site Operating Procedures (14 April).
Based on Public Health England advice, this has detailed guidance about keeping workers safe on site, and you can expect it to be regularly updated to reflect the latest Government stance, so check back regularly. This is the leading document for safe on site work.
BuildUK, a representation organisation for over 40% of the UK construction industry, is also a useful source of information and guidance, with regular updates on the Coronavirus situation.
Small sites are arguably easier to manage than larger sites, purely on the basis that there are fewer people on site, so meeting the 2m safety requirement may be more manageable. Jobs that require teams or several people must be carefully considered to ensure the comply with the Site Operating Procedures guidance.
Establishing what is safe in terms of work is balancing act, and as an employer you are responsible for the safety of workers and anyone else visiting your site. It is essential that you assess the risk of the work on site, to identify sensible measures to minimise risk. The Health and Safety Executive have interactive tools to help you do this.
Government guidance also includes a series of useful steps:
- Consider who is working on site
- Planning to keep this to a minimum
- Monitoring wellbeing of people working on site and from home
- Keeping in touch with off-site workers
- Providing a safe working environment for home workers
Advice is clear that you must not be on site if you have any symptoms whatsoever or are, or live with, a vulnerable person, which could be to do with age, pregnancy or an underlying health or clinical condition.
Equally, if you are living with someone who is self isolating you should not be on site. While this means some people will not be able to be on site, it supports the wider working population to operate in a safer environment.
If you are responsible for a site then you must ensure that these rules are followed by all who come onto the site at any time.
If you think you have symptoms, follow NHS advice on Coronavirus.
The Federation of Mater Builders (FMB) has excellent advice around contracts. The situation is unprecedented, and consequently few contracts will have information for dealing with current work scenarios.
The FMB recommends the following:
- Assess whether you can meet your contractual requirements
- Agree any necessary contract changes
- Establish understanding about the uncertainty of the current climate
- Plan for future restrictions
The Construction Leadership Council has produced a statement on payment and contracts, which deals with risk around invoking contractual clauses to the detriment of other firms. Construction businesses should still pay according to the original terms.
It is important to acknowledge chains within building projects. Any point in the chain could cause a delay that may mean you are unable meet what you have contractually agreed, whether due to labour or supply chain interruptions.
The situation may impact price, types of materials, deadlines for work, so communication must be open and candid to keep work on track. Ensure any changes are agreed, carefully documented and signed by both parties.
The stay-at-home crisis has changed the way many people work, so check if you can sign digitally for contracts, but always ensure you do your own checks that this is acceptable. Government confirmed that in most cases electronic signatures are acceptable, but the situation gets blurry if a document needs witnessing, so seek legal advice.
As with contracts, you will need to review your scheduling of work and deliveries, to reflect the inevitable interruptions that will typify working for the rest of the year. This is crucial on a self build, where jobs are often sequential, and there aren’t other properties that trades can work on.
This applies to the hire or purchase of equipment, so be certain you have the tools you need to do the job well in advance of them being needed. Users of any plant or equipment should wash their hands properly before and after using any tools, as per Government guidance.
Another crucial component for scheduling, materials are typically ordered to correspond with jobs, but this may not be practical due to gaps in the delivery and supply chain. Planning permissions may stipulate materials, so alternatives can not necessarily be swapped in – check the conditions attached to your project.
Materials are a commodity that attract theft and may be damaged, so if you are ordering ahead ensure you have a secure space for storage, and check the situation with your insurance around storing on site.
The National Business Crime Centre has helpful advice for securing professional sites, and many of the principles also apply to smaller sites.
The Construction Products Association (CPA) has advice for anyone operating in manufacturing, some of which is of relevance for the construction industry.
Most manufacturers have detailed websites showcasing their products, as well as case studies illustrating the use of materials. Equally, if you call companies when choosing materials they may be able to post out samples or direct you to other online examples of their materials, such as Instagram or magazine features.
If you stopped work you should have notified your liability insurers, and equally with returning to site it is imperative that you speak to your liability and professional indemnity insurers to check that cover is in place and appropriate.
When onsite inspections resume, ensure that any changed timelines that might affect appointments are shared.
Whether development finance or mortgage finance, check in with your lender to see if the financial circumstance in relation to you or your build have changed.
Mortgage lending has carried on throughout the crisis to date, but circumstances such as valuations and furloughed salaries may have an impact on some new lending agreements. Always check with your lender, broker or financial specialist, and ensure they have experience of custom and self build. The unwillingness of some parties to do site visits during the crisis has acted as a limiting factor on some activity, but NaCSBA believes such visits can be undertaken within best practice guidance or alternative remote approaches adopted.
The inability to do site visits during the crisis acted as a limiting factor on some activity, but with a return to work the backlog should start to get processed.
Small companies may also be eligible from the new 100% Government-backed scheme that offers ‘bounce back’ loans, of between £2,000 to £50,000 to get companies operating again.
You should update your work practices and update your processes for Health and Safety to follow the latest Health and Safety Executive and Site Operating Procedures (always check this is the latest version).
A clean and tidy site will reduce the risk of accidents, as hospital visits following an accident are a risk in themselves. However, if an accident does occur hospitals should not be avoided because of the risk if the injury is serious enough to warrant a visit.
You should conduct your own risk assessment and be sure that you are meeting the expectations for safe operation. If you are the site owner or as the main contractor the responsibility will sit with you for the safety of anyone on site, whether employees, visitors or family members. Limit all but necessary visits to site, too.
Safe distancing: Advice remains that workers (who are not from the same household) should maintain a two-metre distance, and where possible PPE should be worn. Any jobs that make this impossible, such as awkward lifting, should be carefully planned to minimise time for close working, and workers should be wearing PPE as a precaution. Safe distancing around deliveries should also be practised as standard.
PPE: The FMB has raised the issue around the lack of PPE for onsite work, and without it some jobs may not be able to be completed. Again, risk assessments for such jobs should be undertaken and the work delayed if it cannot be carried out safely without PPE.
Travel: Teams of workers should not be sharing transport (unless they are in the same household), with workers arriving independently and avoiding public transport where possible. The latest guide for returning to work, Our Plan to Rebuild, released 11 May, sets out the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport.
Staggered timings: Given the longer days, measures that can support safe working include staggered start times, lunches and breaks, with – where practical, multiple kitchen and toilet facilities. There should ideally be several washing points fully supplied with appropriate cleaning and sanitisers.
Government also announced that builders could agree more flexible site working hours with the local council to support the staggering of workers on site.
Set expectations: You should establish with your workforce in advance how this will work in practice on your site. The FMB recommends daily briefings (that reflect safe distance measures) with expectations around new work processes and practices. It may help to share this PDF guide.
A zero tolerance approach to lax behaviour should be practised, with a process put in place for notification of breaches and also for any workers starting to develop symptoms, with record keeping in place.
Cleaning: Hotspots should be regularly disinfected, with a person appointed to do this job and a log of cleaning. These include entry points, handles, equipment handles and controls, ladders, taps and toilets. Tools should not be shared and should be sanitised after use.
Clothing: clothing should be washed after use, ideally loaded directly into the washing machine by the user, if possible.
Shared equipment: tablets, devices, plans and anything that is shared represents a transmission risk and should be avoided.
The Coronavirus is a rich opportunity for scammers operating cyber crime and phishing scams, with worried people clicking on links to ensure they get the correct information.
As with all cyber crime, think before opening emails or attachments from unusual sources or addresses that don’t quite look right. If it is from your bank or another professional organisation and looks suspicious check its safe – by looking on the relevant website rather than following links.
The National Cyber Security Centre has advice on avoiding Phishing and other email scams and also on malware and ransomware attacks.
Other good sources of advice are the National Crime Agency and police forces, such as the Metropolitan Police.
If anyone develops symptoms you must follow protocol and ensure that work is stopped, safely, and secured. You must report anyone that develops symptoms at work to the HSE under RIDDOR, using the online guidance. A risk assessment should then be completed about the situation on site, and any workers isolating should follow guidelines.
Keep a log of all activity, including securely handled tracing information, and ensure that any consequences of delaying or halting work are relayed along the chain to all involved.
The Government in England has a 5-pillar strategy for coronavirus testing, that includes testing people who have coronavirus-like symptoms to assess whether or not they currently have the virus (so not an antibody test to see if they have had it). Construction workers are now included among the groups eligible for testing, to support the return to work.
In most cases with a self build or custom build, the owner and their family will not be in residence on site. However, if this not the case the Government has detailed guidance for precautions you should take for carrying out work inside people’s homes.
This is most likely to apply if homeowners in temporary accommodation on site look to move into a property before all work is completed, but all insurances should be checked before owners consider this as an option, and current Government advice remains for people not to move house if they can avoid it.
FAQs: Planning and national differences
Yes, most are still operating planning services, but individual arrangements are in place for contact, either by phone, email or email for a call back. New legislation in England temporarily allows councils to hold committee meetings remotely, with the public able to access them remotely. Check the situation with regards to your authority’s attitude to site visits for planning and building control.
Check the latest status, but Scotland passed emergency legislation Scottish Parliament, with the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill. At the 6 May, all construction work apart from that deemed essential remains halted in Scotland, meaning there are no measures at time of writing for a phased return.
Planning, and many other areas, is devolved and Scotland is taking measures that echo those in the rest of the UK, but which are different. With regards to planning, Scotland’s Chief Planner published a Covid-19 update letter at the start of April and Scottish Government also has guidance for the construction industry. This differs from England as all non-essential construction work has ceased.
RTPI Scotland welcomed the legislation, especially as it means that planning permissions due to lapse in the emergency period will be extended.
Scottish Government has also announced an emergency loan fund for SME housebuilders of up to £1million to support them through Coronavirus crisis.
Wales has also issued guidance to planning authorities for the crisis, as well as guidance for housing and emergency permitted development rights.
In addition, it has released advice about maintaining physical distancing measures in the workplace as a core element in safe working, which can be enforced through fines. It also has an SME business support fund.
Northern Ireland’s Chief Planner also issued a letter with guidance, and PACWAC, the Planning Appeals Commission reopened its office with effect from the 11 May. The Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) has a useful blank risk assessment template that can be used to support decisions about returning to work.
The Irish Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has created its own series of guidance and information for work practice during the crisis.
Government announced on 13 May that people could, once again, move house, provided they followed guidance on keeping safe. The announcement means that limited viewings can once again be conducted, although virtual sales are to be encouraged. Guidance includes advice for the various professions working in and servicing homes sales.
Importantly, the guidance also states: “It also applies to custom and self builders looking to acquire a plot or a property to renovate or to demolish.” Specifically, it also confirms that surveyors can visit plots to undertake valuations to support the release of stage payment mortgages, and also that inspectors can carry out warranty assessments, including for custom and self builds.
Many companies have retained some elements of their work online, so check with a company you are planning to work with. Services such as architects and package companies are often able to do online consultations, and may be able to do work on planning your project, design and pricing work without a face to face or site visit.