Industry insight: Should construction sites close due to coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Industry insight: Should construction sites close due to coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Sarah Schütte of Schutte Consulting Limited discusses the issues on site due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) and some of the practicalities facing the construction industry.

Why are construction sites still open and should they close?

Do whatever you can to avoid the risk of coronavirus. That’s what the government led by Boris Johnson, as sagely advised by Sir Patrick Vallance (Government Chief Scientific Adviser) and Chris Whitty (Chief Medical Adviser), are saying. As of Monday 23 March, ‘stay at home’ became an order, enforceable by emergency police powers.

And yet, construction sites remain open. Why?

It comes down to the complexity, and harshness, of life in construction. Many coal-face workers are individuals on day rates. They may be British, European or from elsewhere, it doesn’t matter. For them, the risk of the virus is less important than the need to earn, to have that clutch of cash in the hand at the end of the day. Organisations 'up the chain' know this but are turning a blind eye—funders won’t release access to a facility unless progress is made (and shown, usually to their own (ie engaged by the funder) monitoring agent or similar clipboard-wielding official). Progress can’t be made and shown until the whole chain delivers—employer, contractor, sub-contractor, sub-sub-contractor, labourer. And so the problem is pushed down and down until it reaches the bottom. Where the brickie, or sparkie or chippie or welder is actually doing the work.

A programme manager that I talked to yesterday said:

How do you maintain social distance when your contract programme assumes clear access to a work face, but

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About the author:
Sarah Schütte is an independent UK-qualified solicitor-advocate and runs her own legal and training consultancy, Schutte Consulting Limited, based in London, UK, whose motto is "Making law work for the construction and engineering industry". Sarah has 19 years’ experience as a specialist infrastructure lawyer, including 12 years working directly for industry. She has developed a niche practice in project management, project controls and the law (PPM and P3M and PMO). She works with clients, contractors, professionals and supply chain delivery partners as a whole life project advisor, and supports them with training workshops and project facilitation sessions. SCL’s clients are based in the UK, USA and South East Asia, in addition to close collaborations with organisations in several other countries. Sarah speaks French, German and Spanish as well as English. 
 
Sarah focuses on putting law in its practical and purposive context: she equips her clients with the accurate knowledge and essential skills for confident and competent contract management, which tangibly improve delivery outcomes. Sarah is a regular conference speaker and media commentator. She writes the “Industry Insight” column for LexisPSL UK, is accredited by several industry and ADR associations, and contributes probono to industry initiatives to promote excellence in project delivery and the use of technology to control risk and facilitate governance. She collaborates closely with global Chapters of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the UK Association of Project Managers (APM). Since 2016, Sarah has chaired the UK User Group for a USA-centred global project controls software company.
 
Sarah’s professional interests include ethics, behavioural science and collaboration, and how projects are influenced by individual behaviour and organisational culture. Her site boots and hard hat are always to hand.