A timeline of how the Pandemic has had an impact on the construction industry

COVID-19 has been inescapable for businesses and the construction industry is no different. While it may not have been as hard hit as some areas such as retail there has still been a significant impact. Many construction projects remained open during lockdown, but where has the impact in construction been and what are the key moments involved?

The First Cases

In February the UK got its first case of coronavirus. At this time there was a focus on herd immunity, because of this there is no mass testing plan in place. All businesses within the construction sector and all other industries continue to function as normal, at this time COVID-19 has yet to affect the workforce.

The World Health Organisation declares Coronavirus a pandemic status in March. Within the same month the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking for construction sites to be kept open. This letter outlined the support the construction sector needed and the benefits to the economy in keeping sites open. CLC’s letter highlights the shift in tactic the government was about to take, at this time Italy was in full lockdown and the UK statistics were following the same trend.

Just 3 days after the CLC letter has been sent, on 20th March the UK Government closes schools. The closing of schools put pressure on some construction workers with children who are now at home and in need of home schooling, as most construction workers were not in the ‘key worker’ category outlined by the government they would not be able to send their children to school like NHS staff and Grocery workers could.

Lockdown Begins

On the 23rd March a national lockdown is announced, from February to March a lot has happened very quickly therefore construction sites and businesses haven’t had a chance to prepare. Construction work remains one of the sectors that is allowed to continue, including work on the HS2 project. Despite this, many construction projects start to grind to a halt due to safety concerns. The next day Matt Hancock announces that when it comes to construction, work could continue if workers stood 2 metres apart from each other. Due to the 2-metre rule it was logistically impossible for many sites to remain open.

At the end of March, the Secretary of State writes to the UK construction sector thanking it for the work being done to help combat the impact of the pandemic, including “building temporary hospital wards, installing complex and life-saving oxygen systems.” This is referring to the Nightingale Hospitals built round the country, with the largest being in London. The idea of these pop-up hospitals was to reduce the strain on the NHS and create additional Intensive Care beds available.

The Construction Industry Adapts

Entities within the construction sector, including the HSE and CLC, come together to find ways to make sites safe in early April. The main focus is implementing the Government’s social distancing requirements. Construction sites are keen to re-open where closed and are adapting quickly to include social distancing and site safety, it is a huge challenge for construction management.

Later in April the CLC issued a joint statement with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority. The statement called for construction businesses to pay in accordance with agreed contractual terms. Not long after this the CLC published Version 3 of the Site Operating Procedures. This includes information such as, guidance for those who have no choice but to share transport to work, and how to reduce the risk of transmission where social distancing of 2-metres cannot be achieved.
Reports of major construction firms shutting down sites, or re-opening sites after a temporary shutdown, dominate industry headlines in early to mid-April. Many conclude that the lack of PPE on site could be a breach of statutory duties such as those in Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015.

Return to Work

On 10th May the government announces an easing of lockdown. Construction is one of the top sectors in which the government urges people to return to work, including urban regeneration schemes. A number of developers announce plans to restart work on site almost immediately. To assist the safety of the construction industry a government ministerial statement allows for temporary extensions to working hours on some sites to facilitate safe working, this is positively received by construction management.
It’s announced on 23rd June that from 4th July the UK will switch from social distancing of two metres to “one metre plus” and pubs, restaurants and hotels will re-open. By this point most of the construction industry starts to return – or has returned – to work in line with government guidance. The one metre rule will make construction management for sites much easier and more efficient.

The food and retail and other non-essential industries are able to open in England, including hair dressers on 4th July, not long after this other non-essential service are able to open including salons and tattoo shops. The UK is seeing its ‘new normal’.

Impact on the Construction Industry

At the peak of the Pandemic the construction industry had 41% of staff on furlough, however unlike most industries this rapidly reduced to 29% by May. The impact of Coronavirus was huge, but RG Group and the construction industries ability to adapt quickly reduced this impact greatly. Find out more about the work RG Group do here.

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