With our current situation changing daily, how is Coronavirus affecting the construction industry? With the UK caught in an unprecedented state of emergency, measures to control the spread of infection are being continually updated. While many in the construction industry initially feared the worst, so far it has been relatively unaffected. However, with the death toll standing at almost five thousand at the time of writing, the shadow of site closures looms large. Almost forty-eight thousand people have tested positive for COVID – 19 so far, with figures rising daily.
Luckily, construction is a key part of the British economy and the government are loath to impose restrictions. In fact, in the recent Budget announcement, government investment in construction played a major role. This covered the entire government term from 2020 to 2025, guaranteeing some security even when the current situation is resolved. But the majority of construction is composed of SMEs (small to medium enterprises) consisting of fewer than 250 employees. These will feel the pinch most severely and lack the finances to weather the storm if site closures ensue.
Safeguarding your Business
Limiting the spread of Coronavirus is key to delaying any further negative impact on business in Britain as a whole. By considering the following points and implementing changes to address them, SMEs can limit any impact on their business.
Identify Risks to Current Projects
Do you have staff that are self isolating due to illness and how will this affect productivity? Fewer staff, in administration as well as on site, will delay completion of current projects. If you employ sub contractors, be aware of any staffing difficulties they may be experiencing. It is worth keeping detailed records of staff that are unavailable and the circumstances causing their absence. These will cover your business in the event of legal claims if projects are delayed. Are all the required materials available and if not what delays will this cause? You will not be the only company experiencing staff difficulties and their problems could quickly become yours too. Review the projected timescale of active contracts and identify any provisions to assist if problems arise. While suppliers are obliged to inform you of any significant delays, it is advisable to organise remote ‘risk meetings’. These will keep you aware of any potential pitfalls and allow time to deal with them accordingly.
Liaise with Suppliers
Being aware of delays in delivery or limited availability of materials allows you to reorganise work in anticipation. If you source materials from abroad, travel and import restrictions could affect availability. Limiting contact between your staff and delivery workers should also be arranged. It may be possible to pre order materials in larger quantities if delays are imminent. Your suppliers may be aware of foreign government restrictions affecting your supply chain. Staying in close contact with suppliers will limit unforeseen issues with the supply chain.
As an employer, you are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your staff. You should make sure any additional personal protective equipment is available where necessary. This is not only a moral and possibly legal obligation, by safeguarding your employees you will reduce lost man hours due to illness. With a potential self isolation period of 14 days per person, this could severely impact productivity. Communication is essential to raise staff awareness of potential risks and the safeguards you have employed. Where possible, allow staff to work from home to limit the chance of infection.
Staff Organisation and Distribution
The recommended two metre distancing between individuals can be difficult in construction and manufacturing. By their very nature they demand staff work in close proximity, but this can be limited with some effort. Again communication is important here to ensure staff know how to minimise contact with others. Working practices may need to be amended to reduce contact to a minimum. If possible, shift patterns should be rearranged to limit the amount of people on site at a given time. Perhaps the usual workforce could be split into two groups working opposing shifts. Staff meetings should be kept to a minimum, with only key members present. Office meetings should be held remotely by communicating online where possible.
Communicate with Your Clients
While your clients will be aware of the current situation, they may not understand how it impacts on your work. Regular communication will keep them informed of any delays and issues you are facing. Just having the courtesy to keep them informed could prevent costly legal repercussions. Issue warning notices of any development in government policy that will affect work or cost. Any necessary changes to ongoing contracts can then be negotiated to the satisfaction of both parties. Most contracts contain provisions stating notice should be served of events impacting on timely completion of work. It is possible amendments will have to be made to contracts currently being negotiated due to government action. Clients have a right to be informed of this and again this could avoid legal action and loss of current and future work.
Be Aware of Your Legal Rights and Obligations
Always be aware of the details of any insurance policies and how these will protect you if work becomes impossible. Maintain records of any staff unable to work, even those of subcontractors. Include details of when and why they were unable to work (self – isolation, infection or lockdown). If difficulties sourcing materials arise, ensure an audit trail is maintained of alternative steps taken. Keep records of any risk meetings with suppliers to back these up. Check all current contracts for force majeure clauses or those relating to government intervention. These can cover you in the event of delayed work due to forces beyond your control. Finally, ensure that any new contracts include mechanisms to deal with events associated with the COVID – 19 outbreak.
At Hardwoods Group, we are a close knit business who understand the pressures we all face in the current social climate. We are closely monitoring Government guidelines and will maintain business as usual for as long as possible. To all our friends and colleagues in the construction business, we offer all our support and best wishes. Our current hardship will soon pass and we will all emerge stronger for it. Stay strong and stay safe.
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