Covid 19: Building site safety quick guide and Q & A

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Take a look at our safety Q & A below.

The government launched ‘Working safely during COVID-19 in construction and other outdoor work’ on 11th May 2020. Below you’ll find our version, concentrating purely on the building-site specific guidance.

We’ve broken down the guidance on working safely into questions and answers, using our own phrasing. There’s a bit of repetition in places where recommendations cross over, but as they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Grab a coffee and get set to take it all in below.  There’s a link above to our Quick Guide which is a reminder of all the key points – that you and your staff can refer to. Download and print! Of course there’s no substitute for looking at the full government guide which you’ll find here or producing a Covid-19 Risk Assessment.

And every building firm is different, just as every site is too, so you will need to translate the guidance into the specific actions that you and your team should personally take.

Q. As an employer what are my responsibilities?

Everyone needs to assess and manage the risks of COVID-19. As an employer, you also have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety. This means you need to think about the risks they face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them, recognising you cannot completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19. In its very simplest terms employers should be applying the following:

  • Staff can work providing they are well and have no symptoms.
  • Regular hand washing and the 2m social distancing rule must be observed.
  • Where people cannot be 2m apart do everything practical to manage transmission risk.
  • Working areas (including vehicles and machinery) should be kept well-ventilated.
  • No work should be carried out in households that are isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless that work is to remedy a direct safety risk.
  • You should limit your site to as a few workers as possible.
  • Materials should be handled in a way that reduces touchpoints between workers.

In short, you need to plan for the minimum number of people needed to be onsite operating safely and effectively, for example, workers deemed necessary to carry out physical works, supervise work, or conduct work, in order to operate safely.

Q. I’ve only got five employees – do I really need to record a Covid-19 Risk Assessment?

Every business should complete a Risk Assessment. If you have fewer than 5 workers, or are self-employed you don’t have to write anything down as part of your Risk Assessment, but even then, it’s a really helpful process to go through to make sure you’re getting your processes right. If you have 5 or more workers, then you do have to record the Risk Assessment. It’s a legal requirement. And that’s a Risk Assessments for each place of work. So one for the site, and one for the office for example.

Q. What do I need to include in my Covid-19 Risk Assessment?

Your Risk Assessment will help you decide whether you have done everything you need to. HBXL’s Health & Safety Xpert 2020 includes a Covid-19 Risk Assessment.

Employers have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures. Employers must work with any other employers or contractors sharing the workplace so that everybody’s health and safety is protected.

In the context of COVID-19 this means working through these six steps in order:

  1. In every workplace, increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
  2. Businesses and workplaces should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make every reasonable effort to comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the government (keeping people 2m apart wherever possible).
  3. If you cannot always be 2m apart, you should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between your staff.
  4. Further mitigating actions include:
    – increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
    – keeping the activity time involved as short as possible (a maximum 15 minutes face-to-face)
    – using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
    – using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
    – reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others)
  5. And if you have to be face-to-face for a sustained period, then you will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.
  6. In your assessment you should give particular regard to whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, or whether your client is extremely vulnerable and shielding or in a vulnerable category e.g. otherwise well but over 70 for example.

Q. What next with the Risk Assessment?

Once you have completed the Risk Assessment, the results should be shared with your workers, and others working in a home or when visiting others’ homes. If possible, you should consider publishing the results on your website. There is also a notice you can display, which can also be provided as cards, stickers or similar, to show you have followed this guidance.

Q. Do we need to wear a face mask on site?

It is important to know that the evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small. Therefore face coverings are not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk, including minimising time spent in contact, using fixed teams and partnering for close-up work, and increasing hand and surface washing.

Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. This means telling workers:

  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or
  • use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and after removing it
  • when wearing a face covering, avoid touching your face or face covering, as you could contaminate them with germs from your hands
  • change your face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
  • continue to wash your hands regularly
  • change and wash your face covering daily
  • if the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in your usual waste
  • practise social distancing wherever possible

You can make face-coverings at home and can find guidance on how to do this and use them safely on

There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms.

A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. It just needs to cover your mouth and nose. It is not the same as a face mask, such as the surgical masks or respirators used by health and care workers.

Similarly, face coverings are not the same as the PPE used to manage risks like dust and spray in an industrial context.

Q. How do we manage social distancing generally?

You must maintain 2m social distancing in the workplace wherever possible.

Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff. Mitigating actions include:

  • Further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning.
  • Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible.
  • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.
  • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible.
  • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others).
  • Finding ways to remove direct contact, for example by setting up drop-off points or transfer zones for tools and equipment.
  • Keeping to one person lifting; avoiding 2 person lifting if possible.
  • Social distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, food areas and so on. These are often the most challenging areas to maintain social distancing.
  • Providing signage at entrances to the worksite to remind the public and workers to maintain social distancing.
  • Providing signage on rights of way that cross your workplace to remind the public to maintain social distancing.

Q. Cleaning – what measures should we be taking?

  • Frequent cleaning of work areas and equipment between uses, using your usual cleaning products.
  • Frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, such as buckets, site equipment and control panels, and making sure there are adequate disposal arrangements.
  • Clearing workspaces and removing waste and belongings from the work area at the end of a shift.
  • If in an ongoing business (e.g. work on a premises) or someone’s home this means wiping down all door handles, hand rails etc at the end of each shift/working day.
  • Sanitisation of all hand tools, controls, machinery and equipment after use.
  • Keep all indoor areas, including vehicles, well ventilated.

Q. Hygiene – what is required of me as an employer?

You should be using signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique. Promote the need to increase handwashing frequency, avoid face-touching, coughing or sneezing into a tissue which is binned safely, or into the arm if a tissue is not available.

  • Providing regular reminders and signage to maintain hygiene standards.
  • Providing hand sanitisers in multiple locations in addition to washrooms.
  • Setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible.
  • Enhancing cleaning for busy areas.
  • Special care should be taken for cleaning of portable toilets.
  • Providing more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection.
  • Where possible, providing paper towels as an alternative to hand dryers in handwashing facilities

Q. What about the cleaning and handling of equipment, materials, waste, and onsite vehicles?

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • Cleaning procedures for the parts of shared equipment you touch after each use, thinking about equipment, tools and vehicles, for example, pallet trucks and forklift trucks.
  • Ventilating the vehicles too.
  • Establishing drop-off points or transfer zones for tools and equipment to minimise direct contact and encourage cleaning.
  • Encouraging increased handwashing before and after handling tools, equipment, materials, waste and vehicles.
  • Regular cleaning of vehicles that workers may take home.
  • Regular cleaning of reusable delivery boxes.

Q. We keep hearing about PPE – is this something we need to consider on site?

PPE protects the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eyeprotection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes respiratory protective equipment, such as face masks.

Where you are already using PPE in your work activity to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, you should continue to do so.

When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial. This is because COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE.

Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 outside clinical settings or when responding to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.

Unless you are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is extremely limited. However, if your risk assessment does show that PPE is required, then you must provide this PPE free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly.

Q. How do I manage who works where on site?

The objective here is to reduce the number of contacts each worker has. As far as possible, split people into fixed teams or shift groups, so that where contact is unavoidable, this happens between the same people.

Identify areas where people have to directly pass things to each other, such as shared tools, materials or job instructions, and find ways to remove direct contact, for example, by using drop-off points or transfer zones. 

Q. We use vehicles to collect materials, and diggers on site – what do we do?

  • Minimise non-essential travel – consider remote options first.
  • Minimise the number of people travelling together in any one vehicle.
  • Use fixed travel partners.
  • Increase ventilation when possible.
  • Avoiding sitting face-to-­face.
  • Clean shared vehicles between shifts or on handover.

Q. How do we keep everyone informed?

Make sure all workers on site are kept up to date with how safety measures are being implemented or updated.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • Providing clear, consistent and regular communication to improve understanding and consistency of ways of working.
  • Engaging with workers and worker representatives through existing communication routes to explain and agree any changes in working arrangements.
  • Developing communication and training materials for workers prior to returning to site, especially around new procedures for arrival at work.
  • Ongoing engagement with workers to monitor and understand any unforeseen impacts of changes to working environments.
  • Awareness and focus on the importance of mental health at times of uncertainty. The government has published guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Using simple, clear messaging to explain guidelines using images and clear language, with consideration of groups for which English may not be their first language.
  • Using visual communications, for example, whiteboards or signage, to explain safe working practices around the working site to reduce the need for face-to-face communications.
  • Communicating approaches and operational procedures to suppliers, customers or trade bodies to help their adoption and to share experience.

Q. This is a lot to take in. Is there help out there?

Yes there is! Our Health & Safety Xpert 2020 software contains a range of Covid-19 resources. The new documents have been produced in conjunction with a Health & Safety Consultant, following government guidelines.

  • Covid-19 Site Risk Assessment – all firms with 5 employees or more must record one by law
  • Covid-19 Office Risk Assessment – all firms with 5 employees or more must record one by law
  • Covid-19 Toolbox Talk
  • Company Health & Safety Policy with Covid-19 clauses
  • Pre-Construction Info with Covid-19 clauses
  • Construction Phase Health & Safety Plan with Covid-19 clauses
  • Young Persons Risk Assessment with additional Covid-19 clauses
  • Site rules with Covid-19 instructions
  • Site Induction with Covid-19 instructions

Of course you still have to undertake the health and safety measures, but the software goes a long way to making the process much easier.  You can buy the software outright now for £999+VAT or subscribe to it for an annual payment of £399+VAT.

The software does the compliance thinking for you. It matches up-to-the-minute, industry-standard documents (over 150 Risk Assessments, 130 COSHH Assessments, 70 Toolbox Talks, 30 Management documents and three Method Statement templates) to the job! Tell the software what you’re building and the software will tell you what you need to do – filling out much of the paperwork for you.

Next step

If you don’t have Health & Safety Xpert 2020 and want more information, give us a call on 0117 916 7898. If you want to discuss updating your HBXL software then call 0117 916 7892.

Sign up to watch our ‘Power Hour’ video chat with a Health & Safety expert >>


Where you’ll find further guidance from the government

COVID-19: what you need to do

Support for businesses and employers during coronavirus (COVID-19)

General guidance for employees during coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19: HSE guidance on gloves

COVID-19: HSE guidance on mask fittings

COVID-19: Department of Health & Social Care guidance on masks ment_data/file/879221/Coronavirus__COVID-19__­_personal_protective_equipment__PPE__plan.pdf


How to use the information above

This guidance does not supersede any legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment or equalities and it is important that as a business or an employer you continue to comply with your existing obligations, including those relating to individuals with protected characteristics. It contains non-statutory guidance to take into account when complying with these existing obligations. When considering how to apply this guidance, take into account agency workers, contractors and other people, as well as your employees.