There has been plenty of coverage on the impact of  covid-19 on the construction industry, particularly whether and how construction sites should continue to operate during ‘lockdown’. This has had both contractual (‘Looking Beyond Force Majeure’) and practical implications (‘Managing Project Construction Sites.’).

However, before these issues were occupying the collective minds of the construction industry, the major issue was the urgent need to make tall buildings safe from any legacy cladding issues. That issue hasn’t become any less important.

Critical to public safety
The Government has given clear direction in a safety update issued on 27 March that work relating to making buildings safe should continue. It stated;

‘Making buildings safe, including progressing the remediation of high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding, particularly those with unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding; and maintaining measures to ensure buildings are safe ahead of remediation, remains a priority for the government. The government’s view is that this work is critical to public safety.’

It went on to add that as construction sites had not been required to close, work could continue if it is done safely and in accordance with Public Health England and Government guidance.

This announcement came on the back of a Government Advice Note in January which superseded all existing Advice Notes and applies to all premises with a ‘sleeping risk’, including residential, hotels, student accommodation, care homes, hospitals and the like.

Immediate action required
The advice specified the action that building owners should be taking immediate action to assess the risk, and emphasised that owners should follow the steps in this advice urgently to ensure the safety of residents and not await further advice or information to act.

This places an obligation on building owners to establish the detail of the external wall construction where there is sleeping accommodation. Buildings falling into this category include not only purpose built residential properties but also commercial buildings where residential floors may have been added or created at a later date. Local authorities have already issued requests to building owners for this information.

We must not be distracted
Clearly, the requirement on building owners hasn’t gone away or been suspended because of the coronavirus crises and the full implications of the Government’s announcement at the end of March may not have been fully appreciated. There is a risk that building owners will either be distracted or feel unable to make appropriate progress in identifying and remedying unsafe buildings. Getting cladding material tested may be delayed while carrying out site inspections safely in accordance with PHE guidance could also prove problematic.

However, the current interruption to everyday business activity does provide an obvious window for these assessments to be considered, notwithstanding some of the practical issues highlighted.

Maintaining momentum, helping clients
We are working with clients to conduct a thorough review of their portfolios, initially through a review of documentation – health and safety files, ‘As Built’ drawings, Building Regulations and Planning Applications – as well as on-site inspections where possible in accordance with Government guidelines.

It’s vital that the momentum required to ensure all tall buildings are made safe isn’t lost and we are committed to helping our clients achieve this as soon as possible.

by Steven Rodd