Transitioning Back to Work Out of the Pandemic

Many construction businesses work towards further reopening as the UK anxiously awaits for further restrictions to be lifted as it is announced that the final step out of lockdown will now not be going ahead as planned on 21st June, but instead on the 19th of July. This final step will see all legal limits on social contact to be removed. However, there are many speculations on further delays, such as the impact of the new delta COVID variant and as many more ages are invited for their first vaccines, many speculate further delays to allow for those vaccinated more sufficient time for their jabs to take effect.

What does this mean for those in regard to returning to work? For some, hybrid working has become the new norm. If the roadmap out of lockdown is to go ahead on the proposed later date, several restrictions shall be lifted, this includes the end to the work from home order and the relaxation of the one metre plus social distancing rule. As many prepare to return to work, businesses must stay mindful of government advice and must be cautious in the approach of return to the workplace in an effort to safeguard their employees physical and mental wellbeing.

The one-meter social distancing restriction came into play to prevent the spread of the virus through physical contact. However due to this restriction the construction industry saw a gradual decline in production capacity, resulting in manufacturing productivity slowing down.

The government restrictions regarding international travel also had a knock-on effect for the industry, resulting in severe shortages and a backlog of imports for goods, restricting supply for certain materials forcing the cost of such goods to increase. The top three materials found most affected were plasterboard, bricks, and mortar. Lead-times for bricks were high pre-pandemic, so when manufacturers and merchants were having to close operationally during the first lockdown and make changes to accommodate for the government guidelines, such as social distancing, many workforces were forced to reduce significantly to operate safely, heavily driving up times for production.

As the work from home order comes to an end, workers must still remain vigilant in following the Government advice. Here are some steps to be aware of when returning to site as the industry comes out of lockdown.

Workplace Safety

Despite the vaccine taking effect, employers still have a duty of care to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to, whether it be in an office environment or on a construction site! This may involve continued social distancing measures, potentially reconfiguring workspaces and common areas, possible changes to working hours to reduce risk of exposure, improved ventilation and increased workplace cleaning, sanitation and ensure correct PPE is provided. Employers should also listen to any concerns employees may have around travelling to and from the workplace.

End of the furlough scheme

The government furlough scheme has been extended to September 2021 but many workers may be feeling understandably concerned and confused about what this means for them when it comes to an end. The end of the furlough scheme means that businesses will no longer receive funding for staff wages from the government and shall be required to pay for them themselves as the industry return to business as usual. Employers will need to consider their options when this scheme comes to an end.

Some workers may be concerned about the reduction in working hours, some businesses may still be able to provide work for staff but not at the same levels pre pandemic. Some may consider asking staff to reduce their working hours, if this is the case support can still be provided under the flexible furlough scheme until October, with the Government paying partial furlough.

Reliability of work for construction workers has always been an issue of mental health, with many uncertain where their next job shall be coming from, and this will only increase as the funding stops. It is important to communicate with your temporary staff. Keeping people informed of what your business is doing – whether it is good or bad news. Be prepared to respond to questions and keep them in the loop, ensuring concerns are listened to.

Some businesses may struggle in terms of no longer having funding for recruitment. Upskilling your already solid team will not only cut training time in half as they will already have a base knowledge of the work to be carried out but training your team for multiple skills provides them with a clear path for progression.

The easing of lockdown restrictions will affect different business sectors and areas differently. Organisations need to use this time to prepare and plan their next steps, both for the immediate future and the longer term. Having your team know that they are supported by their employer will be pivotal to their wellbeing as we begin the road back to normality.

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