Current Government guidance on the operation of construction sites during the current lockdown is, despite the recently issued Standard Operating Procedures issued by the Construction Leadership Council, open to interpretation and some claim ambiguous.

It has left those responsible for managing sites with a breadth of issues to face. Many main and sub-contractors have taken unilateral decisions to partially, or totally, cease operating on site.

Causes of site closures

If the Government hasn’t instructed construction sites to close down, why are so many taking such costly action? In many cases, those responsible have decided that the social distancing guidelines can’t practically and safely be implemented while continuing to operate, given the nature of the site or project.

In some cases, the contraction in the supply chain for projects, reducing availability of materials and/or sub-contractors has left main contractors with little choice. Alternatively, as has been well documented in the press, many main contractors are simply implementing a company-wide policy to shut down construction in the interests of the health and wellbeing of their staff and contractors.

Some practical considerations

Whatever the reason for the site shutdown, there are a number of practical considerations that need to be implemented:

  1. Clarify the reasons and implications of the site closure in writing in accordance with, and having consideration with the building contract(s). Inevitably, legal advice will be needed.
  2. Notify all key stakeholders of the project including client, funders, occupiers, consultants, insurers and other stakeholders in the project.
  3. Ensure the Principal Contractor has undertaken a health and safety audit to ensure the site is made safe and secure with the construction phase health and safety plan updated.
  4. Depending on the size, nature and location of the site, site security will need to be reviewed to ensure it is at an appropriate level going forward.
  5. Prepare output and deliverables from the project team during site closure period and ensure ambiguous arrangements are agreed in writing with regards to their appointments and fees.

The closure of construction sites is being undertaken reluctantly, but with the best of intentions – to preserve the health and wellbeing of those working on them and to meet current social distancing requirements.

However, in doing so, it is important that those safety considerations are extended to the (hopefully short-term) arrangements whilst shut down.

by Edward Moore