In a speech given on Sunday 10th May, Borish Johnson unveiled his ‘conditional plan’ to reopen society, the first phase of the lockdown relaxation. The main highlight of the speech was the message that those who cannot work from home should now return to work, provided that they don’t require public transport to do so and they have not been identified as at risk.
Johnson explicitly referenced construction and manufacturing as examples of industries that should now be attempting to return to work if possible. Individual workplaces that operate in these industries will be issued with government guidance on how to become “COVID secure,” which is expected to contain information on ensuring that social distancing is maintained in the workplace.
In this post, we first explain the key messages of the announcement, discussing how it has been reported and highlighting some of the important commentaries. The next section outlines the possible impact that this could have on your company. Finally, we provide four tips on what you and your business should do next.
The Story So Far
In mid-March, lockdown measures saw the closure of non-essential businesses and the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that 29% of firms have had to temporarily cut staff to try and keep afloat. This has left not only businesses but also individuals, struggling and with economists forecasting a severe recession following the COVID outbreak, returning to “normal” is likely to take much longer than initially expected.
The construction and manufacturing industries have been hit hard by the lockdown: the Financial Times has reported that, as of the 6th April, UK construction activity was declining at the fastest rate seen since 2009. Civil engineering and commercial construction were the worst affected areas, with decreases in their PMI sub-indices down to 35 in March.
Whilst the government has allowed construction firms to continue work over the past few months, many companies were forced to shut down due to safety concerns with the transmission of the virus on site. On the 7th May, some major players reached the decision to begin reopening sites, including Bellway, Redrow, Barratt, Persimmon, Vistry and Taylor Wimpey.
Following a significant slump in the UK manufacturing industry in March, similar messages have been released from the top car manufacturing firms. As early as the 16th April, Vauxhall announced that the company was planning to restart car production amid the coronavirus crisis, although other major players in the automobile industry have opted for a more cautious approach.
What’s Happening Next?
Now, Johnson’s announcement has given the green light for construction and manufacturing firms to reopen. That said, the general secretary of the trade union, Unite, has cautioned that workers should not be forced to return to work if there is no “safe environment” for them.
What This Means For You
The government lifting lockdown rules for construction and manufacturing at this time will have a positive economic impact, but what does this mean for you and your workers on a personal level?
As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to ensure that your workers have a safe work environment. Prior to any discussions surrounding resuming work, you should carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment to understand the risks that your employees face, and do everything possible within your power to protect them from health and safety risks.
The government has provided in-depth guidance surrounding safe working across a variety of industries. The guidance for the construction industry can be found here, and the guidance for manufacturing and warehousing can be found here.
- Thinking about the risk to your workforce; how to carry out a risk assessment and share the results
- Understanding who should return to work, and how you can protect individuals who are at high risk from COVID
- How to ensure that the 2m social distancing is maintained throughout the working day for the safety of everyone on and off-site including the introduction of shift work
- How to manage contact, visitors and contractors to reduce the footfall across the site
- Guidance surrounding sanitisation and hygiene to ensure that the virus is prevented from spreading
- Advice on PPE and face coverings
- Details on how to change your working practicesto reduce the number of contacts that each worker has.
- How to handle inbound and outbound goods through access control and careful zoning to minimise risk of surface transmission when dealing with high volume goods
First and foremost you should consider the health and safety of your employees at this time. Consulting them surrounding their comfort levels regarding returning to work should be the first discussion. If you decide to progress then following government guidance, maintaining safe and hygienic working practises and preserving the 2m social distancing at all times should be high on your list.
We will continue to report on how coronavirus continues to affect industries including manufacturing and construction. Stay up to date with the latest news, industry insights and company news by subscribing to our newsletter below.
If you are concerned about managing your workforce during this time, we can help assess your current workforce management solutions and can even get time and attendance systems up and running in under two weeks. Talk to a member of our team about your unique challenges today to understand how we might be able to help you.