Even at the second attempt, July 19th will hardly be the ‘freedom day’ originally heralded by Government earlier this year.
But while it certainly doesn’t signal the end of the COVID-19 pandemic it may, just perhaps, signal the beginning of the end. Each UK nation will look to follow its own, hopeful, path to recovery but the new government advice for England broadly replaces its mandatory ‘COVID-safe’ rules with recommendations and advice which rely on voluntary implementation.
One significant outcome for construction on July 19th will be that version 7 of the Construction Leadership Council’s Site Operating Procedures (SOP) and the distribution Branch Operating Plans (BOP), both of which have sought to reflect government rules and guidance, will no longer be in effect.
When the Government’s restrictions lift, which include doing away with mandatory social distancing, the CLC’s SOP, BOP and the Use of Face Coverings in Construction guides will instead be available as voluntary, good practice, ‘reference documents’. These will run alongside new advice from BEIS on voluntary COVID precautions, replacing its own mandatory guidance for construction and the rest of industry .
But August is key…
Even so, many in construction and wider services sectors are increasingly looking beyond 19 July to August 16th. The government has announced that, from then, double COVID vaccination will begin to provide exemption from having to self-isolate if notified by NHS of previous close contact with a ‘COVID positive’ person (‘pinging’).
Construction, unlike many other UK sectors, has largely been able to push on throughout the pandemic, notably by adjusting to the various industry SOPs, but NHS notifications for workers to self-isolate following ‘COVID positive’ close contact have caused widespread business disruption.
Trade associations report significant industry concern about labour predictability both now and in the months ahead, notably as cases rise. To quote one industry body “it’s going to be a long month to August 16th”.
As a result, many in the industry would like the August 16th date brought forward, even in the face of practicalities ranging from how to encourage enough workers to achieve double vaccination to the possible implications of the government advice that workers should take a PCR test following a notified ‘COVID positive’ close contact.
Hold on to site benefits
The SOP, honed through various iterations since its hurried beginnings at the start of the pandemic, have helped to improve site practices over the last 18 months, including better site organisation, enhanced welfare and more communication and consultation with the workforce.
The CLC strongly recommends that these positive site features are retained and many large players in the construction industry will continue to apply site COVID measures, at least until mid-August.
A new Build UK survey shows that over half of its member main contractors will be maintaining social distancing after 19 July, at least in the short term, and naturally this will involve site subcontractors.
Construction businesses will need to continue to ensure site health and welfare, and where COVID precautions are retained, the CLC says the latest SOP and BOP should continue to be followed.
Referring to the SOP will help to maintain consistency across the industry, which will be another considerable plus as we continue to navigate through to what we hope will be the endgame for the pandemic.