Advice on temporary suspension of sites in light of COVID-19

Posted by Richard Wade, 1st April 2020
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We are all learning to adapt in these difficult times of “lockdown” with questions arising as to what this means both for working and social lives.

For construction, the picture is especially confusing: sites are active and are not yet on “lockdown” but there are broader concerns given the need for “social distancing”. The Government has not mandated the closure of construction sites as a result of COVID-19.

In fact, many works are considered essential and over the last few weeks we have seen a huge collaborative effort within the industry to help prepare our NHS for what is to come. Yet, at the same time, many sites are temporarily shutting down on their own accord either to reduce the spread of the virus or to redistribute resources to priority projects.

The controlled shutdown of sites

The safe shutdown of sites and plans to recommence projects swiftly are the priority for all parties. The Construction Leadership Council (“CLC”) has published helpful guidance to help ensure a controlled shutdown of sites where work is suspended due to COVID-19.

Site owners owe a legal duty of care to ensure site safety and security even when there is a lack of presence on site. The priority during closure is to minimise risks and prevent access to the site.

Owners must consider emerging risks to the site and take steps to mitigate those risks such as:-

  • Implementing or maintaining on-site security or CCTV;
  • Ensuring effective communication during shutdown;
  • Reviewing site insurance policies to ensure compliance;
  • Alerting the supply chain to minimise unnecessary traffic and equipment on site; and
  • Displaying an emergency contact board in case of emergency during shutdown.

Sites must, of course, be left in good condition. Materials, equipment and waste should be removed where possible or secured; flammable substances should be taken off site. Scaffolding and temporary works need to be secured and checked before closure and re-checked in the event of adverse weather and re-use.

Part built structures should be supported as appropriate and excavations should be back-filled or covered. For specialist equipment such as cranes, CLC reminds owners to adhere to manufacturer’s guidelines for periods where such items will be out of use.

Consider utilities and environmental factors

Utilities also require consideration. Non-essential utilities should be turned off whilst the site is closed; all water systems should be drained down, temporary supplies to the site need to be isolated and gas supplies should be turned off at the meter. Power can be left on to ensure site security.

The guidance also contains helpful reminders about environmental factors specific to the site which may require specific thought or for extra precautions to be taken (against, for example, flooding). Ecological factors also need some consideration, for example, to avoid harm to protected species.

A full site walkthrough and perimeter check should be undertaken in the run up to the closure to ensure that all of the points have been addressed prior to closure. It may also be necessary to carry out checks on the site throughout the shutdown period to ensure safety and security.

In a more general sense, owners and contractors are reminded to engage with clients and suppliers on commercial and contractual issues arising from any suspension. Sensibly, the guidance recommends that steps are taken to record progress at the point of suspension, ideally supported by photographs.

This article has been co-written by Richard Wade and Sophie Latham.

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