An update on site visits and field working for LI members, providing more details on current government advice and what similar organisations are doing to protect their members’ health and wellbeing

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, South Park. © Robin Forster Photography / LDA Design

Update: Monday 20 April 2020

LI Technical Guidance Note 02/20 – Site Visits and Fieldwork During the COVID-19 Pandemic has now been published.

View the new guidance here.

On 27 March, the LI published guidance regarding COVID-19 strongly recommending that our members avoid site visits and fieldwork unless absolutely necessary.

We’ve since received some queries from members regarding site and field work and the reasoning behind the guidance. With this update we aim to provide more details on the current government advice, and what similar organisations are doing to protect their members’ health and wellbeing.

It’s important to acknowledge that our sector is multidisciplinary and crosses the natural and built environment. We appreciate that there is no single approach that can work for everyone. We expect government positions to change further in the weeks and months ahead, and we will keep our members abreast of any developments.

Following analysis, we are updating our position. Where UK Government advice allows work to continue, our members should conduct a risk-based assessment. We do recommend avoiding site visits and fieldwork if alternative working methods can be undertaken. Members should also look to negotiate with clients to delay site visits if possible.

During this unprecedented time, we must all do our part to ensure the health and wellbeing of our families and the public.

Current guidance and legislation

This section summaries the current legislation and guidance provided across the UK nations. Some is more robust than others and different agencies are taking different approaches. However, the central message remains ‘stay home unless absolutely necessary’.

UK

On 23 March 2020, the UK Government introduced three new measures:

  • Requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes
  • Closing certain businesses and venues
  • Stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public

The relevant authorities have been given the powers to enforce these measures, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

The confusion was whether people that cannot work from home can continue to work if they not deemed a critical worker. UK Government advice is as follows:

‘If you cannot work from home then you can still travel to work. This is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s advice.’

The LI, working with the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and Construction Leadership Council (CLC), sought to clarify the position in relation to our sector.  The most important message from government is to define what work is essential and what work is not essential (as they have done for retail outlets).

One of the imperatives for people to go to work is that so many landscape sector workers are self-employed. In the absence of any support package comparable to the job retention scheme, workers may continue to risk their health by going to work on non-essential projects. It is essential for government to address this issue urgently.

Coronavirus Act 2020

The provisions of the Coronavirus Act, which are time-limited for two years, enable the government to restrict or prohibit public gatherings, control or suspend public transport, and close businesses.

Existing emergency powers to deal with the spread of infection are set out in different pieces of legislation for the four nations. In England and Wales, powers are provided by the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (as amended by the Health Protection Act 2008). Similar powers are provided by the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008 and the Public Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1967.

England

Guidance for the construction sector has come through various channels and the messaging has been mixed. The clearest indicator was a letter from Secretary of State Alok Sharma stating, ‘for many people working in construction their job requires them to travel to their place of work, and they can continue to do so’.

  • Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020
    This statutory instrument provides a list of ‘reasonable excuses’ set out in Regulation 6(2) including travelling for the purposes of work where it is not reasonably possible to undertake them from home.

Wales

Welsh guidance is currently in line with UK government guidance laid out above, albeit deployed at slightly different dates.

Scotland

Scottish government is taking a stronger stance. All construction work in Scotland should stop immediately unless it is part of an essential project, according to new guidance for the industry released by the Scottish Government.

Northern Ireland

As well as the UK government, the Northern Ireland Executive has been coordinating closely with the Irish government on a joint approach to the coronavirus crisis.

CV-19 responses from other nations

Our members working outside of the UK are advised to follow local government guidelines on working. Working decisions must be based on the regulations in place and guidance issued by the relevant local authority.

CV-19 response from government agencies and other bodies

This section summaries the various actions of other agencies and bodies. In particular, we aimed to look closely at government agencies’ policies and mirror their approach. (In other words, do as they do and not, perhaps, as they say.) The vast majority of these entities are taking robust steps to limit any outdoor working.

Government Bodies

Natural England (NE)
Environment Agency (EA)
 Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
  • The HSE will not be carrying out ‘official recognition’ inspections of organisations testing plant protections products, and will be issuing most product authorisations and approvals online rather than by post.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW)
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS)
Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
  • DAERA Coronavirus (COVID-19)
    All routine farm inspections – e.g. areas of environment, EU area-based scheme, Agrifood and Veterinary work – are paused until 30 April. Essential inspections such as Public Health Risk Sampling, Brucellosis and bTB Surveillance will continue where possible.

Planning

UK Planning Inspectorate Updates
  • Planning Inspectorate guidance in relation to the spread of coronavirus (25 March 2020)
    The Planning Inspectorate has postponed all casework events in the near future, including site visits, hearings and inquiries. In a letter to local planning authorities, the Inspectorate encouraged the use of discretion on the enforcement of other planning conditions that hinder the effective response to coronavirus. Authorities are to take an innovative approach to decision-making, ‘using all options available … to continue [their] service’. The government will introduce legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period.

Welsh Government Planning Inspectorate Updates
Scotland
Construction Industry Council
Construction sector
  • Crossrail development halted
  • Taylor Wimpey to close its construction sites
  • Persimmon closes its construction sites
Other Membership Bodies
  • CIEEM
    CIEEM, which represents ecologists and environmental managers, has advised its members to carry out ‘dynamic risk assessments’ to protect themselves and others from the COVID-19 virus.
  • BALI
    BALI has issued site working guidelines to protect their members and matched government advice to proceed with work that cannot be done at home. The message to avoid outdoor working where possible remains important.
  • CABE
    Employees are urged to work from home wherever possible.
  • RSPB
    Sites are closed for visiting.
  • RTPI
    RTPI has stated that it ‘continues to monitor the fast-moving situation and … are committed first and foremost to the health and safety of our members’. Their focus seems to be on following local guidelines and MCHLG guidance.
  • RICS
    Surveyors should not expect to carry out non-urgent surveys in homes where people are in residence. No inspections should take place if any person in the property is showing symptoms, self-isolating or being shielded.
  • The Arboricultural Association
    Those who can work from home should continue to do so. Those who are unable to work from home, such as contractors and those surveying and inspecting trees, should be able to continue to work outdoors where it is safe to do so in line with Public Health guidance.

To assist the industry, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has provided further guidance on site operating procedures and how construction sites should operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for confirming the Landscape Institutes position with regard to the current government guidance regarding site visits and social distancing. I am concerned that some Local Authorities are still carrying out site visits at this time.

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