Six key factors to consider for site closures

25 March 2020 | By Jane McMonagle and Juliet Haldane

Image: © Nikolay Chekalin |

Many big construction companies and housebuilders are closing most of their sites due to the coronavirus crisis. So, what factors should be considered when implementing a temporary shutdown? Jane McMonagle and Juliet Haldane explain.

There have been contradictory messages from the UK government on whether construction sites can stay open.

On 23 March, prime minister Boris Johnson stated that travelling to work is only permitted where "absolutely necessary". The next day, chancellor Rishi Sunak said that constructions sites are being allowed to remain open, if done safely. But Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and mayor of London Sadiq Khan advised that all construction sites should close. Last night, health secretary Matt Hancock said sites could stay open as long as they followed the ‘two metre’ social distancing rule.

For contractors, consultants and sub-contractors, following government guidance on social distancing would be both impractical and uneconomical. In most cases it would be impossible to comply with the prohibition against gatherings of more than two people and two-metre distancing. Even putting the execution of the works to one side, welfare facilities on sites are shared spaces, often with numerous workers occupying them at any one time and in close proximity.

Contractors seeking to run sites in compliance with the government guidance could soon find themselves racking up additional labour costs. Those on fixed price contracts will be reluctant to proceed on that basis.

Construction companies will want to protect their businesses and workforces both in relation to health and finances. Numerous firms have already taken the difficult decision to close most of their sites, including ISG and Sir Robert McAlpine, plus housebuilder Taylor Wimpey. By doing so they are minimising their costs and, importantly, complying with government guidance aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Six key factors to consider for site closures

For employers and contractors that are taking matters into their own hands and stopping works, there are six key considerations to remember when temporarily closing sites.

1. Insurance 

Who is insuring the works? Check contractual provisions: is the All Risks Policy still in date? Does it adequately cover all the necessary interests? Speak to your insurance brokers.

2. Communication

Communication lines should be established between all parties (including the supply chain) on a construction project as soon as possible, to implement arrangements that safely secure the site. Site managers should ensure they have up to date contact information for all key personnel.

3. Social distancing

Ensure that all individuals still on-site follow current UK government and Scottish government guidance and measures in relation to social distancing.

4. Health and safety

Do not compromise any health and safety requirements. In England, the Construction Leadership Council has advised: "If an activity cannot be undertaken safely due to a lack of suitably qualified personnel being available, or social distancing being implemented, it should not take place."

5. Subcontractors 

Contractors must communicate with their subcontractors and ensure they too are fully co-operative and following all necessary guidelines.

6. Security 

Secure the site by ensuring appropriate fencing, barricades and hoarding is erected around the site boundary to prevent any access being taken. Similarly, ensure any materials, machinery, plant, tools and other equipment are locked up, secure and out-of-sight. Does the contract set out any specific requirements in respect of securing the site? Is there time to implement further measures? Test your alarm and any CCTV – ensure these are closely monitored and fully operational. If power to sites is compromised, consider alternative available means of security/surveillance.

Jane McMonagle is a partner and Juliet Haldane is a legal director in construction and engineering at Brodies LLP. 


It is all well and good talking about social distancing, but, in a high risk industry what happens if you have even a minor accident requiring First Aid
Bang goes the social distancing, plus potential exposure to bodily fluids (blood)
Even worse you have a more serious incident requiring emergency treatment and there is no ambulance available, or, on arrival at hospital, no medical staff to deal with the issue
Let's think about this in people terms not money terms
Section 2 of HSWA places a general duty on employers to ensure, so far
as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all
their employees
Travelling to work, using the canteen, working on a task, first aid response

Darren Allport, 27 March 2020

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