The return to normality on construction sites has taken a big step forward today with the removal of various restrictive government guidelines relating to COVID-19.
Advice to enforce mask-wearing in certain confined spaces, stagger break times and frequently clean specified surfaces has been dropped by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), which is co-chaired by business minister Lee Rowley.
The move follows a decision by the government, outlined in its Living with COVID-19 plan, to archive its Working Safely During Coronavirus guidance – which only applied in England – from today (1 April).
The government has also dropped the requirement for all employers in England to explicitly consider the virus in health and safety risk assessments.
In response, the CLC has made clear that its own industry-specific guidance notes, related to site-operating procedures and face coverings, are both now out of date. These outlined a number of measures contractors were urged to take to ensure they complied with government advice related to the pandemic.
Steps that employers were told to take by the CLC included introducing one-way systems on site, providing extra handwashing or sanitiser stations and keeping workers in small, separated teams. Face coverings were advised for crowded, enclosed areas in the workplace.
Despite the removal of the guidance, the Living with COVID-19 plan states that employers should “continue to consider the needs of employees at greater risk from COVID-19”. It adds that businesses should take responsibility for implementing risk mitigations in the workplace that are “appropriate for their circumstances”.
Kathryn Moffett, associate at law firm CMS, said legislation was being removed to “assist the return to pre-pandemic life”.
She added: “While this will remove the mandatory requirement to explicitly consider COVID-19 in the workplace, the onus remains on employers as the guidance refers to empowering businesses to take responsibility and to mitigate the risk for their specific circumstances.”
Free testing for the general public also ended today, with only certain health, care and high-risk staff, and particularly vulnerable people, still eligible to receive kits without paying.
Adults are no longer legally required to self-isolate when they have the virus, and are only advised to “try to stay at home” for five days.
Ministers said more than £15bn had been spent on testing, tracing and isolation during the pandemic.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said this week: “Thanks to our plan to tackle COVID, we are leading the way in learning to live with the virus. We have made enormous progress but will keep the ability to respond to future threats, including potential variants.
“Vaccines remain our best defence and we are now offering spring boosters to the elderly, care-home residents and the most vulnerable – please come forward to protect yourself, your family and your community.”
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, more than 165,000 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive test result.
The Office for National Statistics estimated that one in 16 people in England had the virus in the week ending 19 March – rising to one in 11 in Scotland.
Certain rules and guidelines related to the coronavirus remain in place in different parts of the UK.