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
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Welsh guidance is currently in line with UK government guidance laid out above, albeit deployed at slightly different dates.
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.
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.
- Natural England’s latest statement on the implications for their operations (25 March 2020)
All field work, either undertaken by NE or their contractors, remains suspended. There is to be no solo fieldwork.
- Environment Agency Operational Update (3 April 2020)
The aim is to ensure that regulatory visits to sites that could cause serious environmental harm are still carried out. However, regulatory visits to other sites are being cut.
- 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)
- NRW response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
NRW are not carrying out site visits unless there is an essential reason i.e. a significant environmental concern.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
- Coronavirus: Latest update from SNH Chief Executive Francesca Osowska (24 March 2020)
No site visits at this time.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
- SEPA coronavirus (COVID-19) response
SEPA will focus on critical sectors only and will not be committing to other site visits.
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 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.
- LDP Preparation – Covid 19 implications (18 March 2020)
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Planning Service Guidance (27 March 2020)
Other than for applications directly responding to Covid-19, we do not expect officers to make site visits. Will bring forward legislation to temporarily remove the need for posting site notices
- Planning Procedures and COVID-19: Chief Planner letter (3 April 2020)
Prioritising casework and work that can be done at home, avoiding non-essential site visits.
Construction Industry Council
- Scottish Government: Guidance for construction industry (6 April 2020)
Work on construction sites, unless it is for essential projects, should stop immediately, as confirmed in new guidance for the construction industry.
- Crossrail development halted
- Taylor Wimpey to close its construction sites
- Persimmon closes its construction sites
Other Membership Bodies
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 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.
Employees are urged to work from home wherever possible.
Sites are closed for visiting.
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.
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.