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Can construction sites stay open?

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While we all patiently await government announcements each day, the current official advice from housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, in respect of construction sites is that they can remain open provided the guidance from Public Health England on worker safety and social distancing is adhered to.

However, the Chartered Institute of Builders (“CIB”) has advised its members to prepare to shut down works and await further information and clarity from the daily announcements. There have been calls by the CIB to ensure that construction sites are secure and stable and there are measures in place for those maintenance systems that would be unsafe to stop.

There have already been building companies that have taken the decision to close their sites but there are other construction workers who are continuing to work on sites following the housing secretary’s comments that sites could remain open if workers could not work from home and provided that social distancing was followed.

The Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, added that builders should still turn up to construction sites if they are out in the open or if necessary works need to be done to a private property. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has argued that construction work should stop unless it was essential that they continue and that such essential works should be those that we need for safety.

What is defined as “essential works” could result in disputes between parties to a construction contract, if for example, a contractor decides to suspend works and walk off site for the foreseeable future. The employer may argue that they are essential works and there is still a contractual obligation in place, which could potentially give rise to a dispute if the contractor refuses to attend the site because of their concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak.

If you require our expert assistance and are concerned about how COVID-19 is affecting your construction business, do get in touch with our experienced construction & engineering law team.

This article represents our understanding of the law in England and Wales as at 24 March 2020. Its contents are not intended to serve as legal advice and should not be considered as a substitute for taking legal advice.