Non-essential construction site lockdown expected

24 March 2020 | By Neil Gerrard

Official advice on whether or not construction sites can continue to operate amid the coronavirus lockdown is expected to shift, with most non-essential sites expected to close unless it is critical to safety that they remain open.

While the current official advice is that sites can remain open provided guidance from Public Health England on worker safety and social distancing, the Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB) has advised its members to make preparations to close sites.

In a statement, the CIOB said: "The Construction Leadership Council has advised UK government that the construction industry will come to work today, to prepare to shut down works safely, whilst awaiting further information and clarity. The CIOB urges its members and the wider the industry to ensure site security, stability of partially constructed structures and the maintenance of systems that would be unsafe to stop."

A further announcement is expected later today.

The news follows an address to the nation by prime minister Boris Johnson, effectively locking down large parts of the country, including a ban on public gatherings of more than two people. People are allowed to exercise outside only once a day, travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary”, shop for essential items, and to fulfil any medical or care needs.

However, there has been confusion as to how the measures apply to construction sites.

Some firms, including builders merchants Jewson, Travis Perkins and Buildbase, have already taken the decision to close all of their branches. Meanwhile ISG, which operates in several different countries and is grappling with shifting advice in each, has announced its decision to close sites temporarily unless they can pass a risk test.

Immediately following Johnson's address last night, housing secretary Robert Jenrick appeared to suggest that sites could remain open if workers were unable to undertake their work from home and provided Public Health England Guidance on social distancing was followed.

Gove suggests some sites must close

But Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove cast some doubt on whether Jenrick’s advice applied to all sites, when interviewed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today. Gove said: “In other countries it is the case that construction work and other manufacturing is continuing, so we are in with what those other countries are doing.”

Gove added that builders should still turn up to construction sites if they are out in the open or if a private property is vacant and essential work needs to be done, but that builders should not be undertaking works at close quarters in occupied homes would not be appropriate.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan indicated to the BBC last night that construction work should stop unless it was essential. He said: “I have expressed my concern to the prime minister directly and at COBRA that the definition of key workers that is too wide can lead to too many people not following the advice to stay at home.”

Asked if he wanted to see construction workers excluded from the list of key workers and a pause in building works, Khan said: “In my view, the only construction workers that should be working are those that we need for safety. These are extraordinary circumstances. Of course it is really important to recognise this is an economic and social emergency but it is more important to recognise that this is a public health emergency.”

And Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon also said prior to Johnson's announcement that she thought construction sites should sites in Scotland should shut, warning: "This is about saving lives."

Build UK’s current advice on protecting the workforce on sites that are still open can be found here.


Thank the CIOB, Khan, Sturgeon and Builders Merchants for putting health & well being first in this very serious situation and doing the right thing as you cannot get to work safe on public transport or maintain the safe zones on the average construction site and the four bullet points are clear for shopping, exercise, vulnerable help and travel....... so opening sites is not an option and the quicker we close, lockdown, overcome the virus, the quicker we all get back to health and prosperity and with our NHS in tact.......

Paul Millson FCIOB, 24 March 2020

Some sites in open air and remote should be safe to continue if the transport system allows for social distancing - e.g. one vehicle per person

Brian Grainger, 24 March 2020

Doesn't matter if the site is safe if travelling to and from work is more hazardous

Gordon ogg, 24 March 2020

In light of the current pandemic, there is a propensity for government ministers to "panic", without considering the consquences of their actions within the construction industry. As a member of CIOB since 1970, I have experienced a number of recessions, and it has always been the construction industry that leads the way out of these unfortunate situations. If the current propensity to close sites without any justifiable reasoning is adopted, then the return to a normal working arena will inevitably be delayed even further. Having carried out a number of site inspections this morning, there was absolutely no problem with any of them continuing, with digger drivers effectively "self-isolating" within their machines, and other operatives working well apart. I cannot think of any operation on site where two or more operatives need to be in such close proximity to each other. I would urge government ministers to carefully consider their actions before unwittingly extending what will inevitably turn into both a full blown national and world-wide financial recession.

Arthur David Bishton ICIOB, 24 March 2020

Has anyone considered that the refurbishment of void properties by Local Authorities and Housing Associations will help allieviate the pressure on the inevitable de-canting problems that will be faced over the coming month's with emergencies, floods, backsurges.The normal procedure is to use hotels. This may not be an option in the current climate. These can be done in a measmeasurement of a couple of weeks max. It's a solid short term solution
They can also be used for temporary accommodation for key workers in town instead of commuting short term if housing transfers are suspended.


For once I agree with Sadiq Khan and wholeheartedly. We should stop, as a nation, trying to find ways to undermine a global health emergency. Very few construction activities are essential. Stop work. Stay at home. Otherwise you could end up, directly or indirectly killing a member of your or a mates family.

Tony Walters, 24 March 2020

A construction firm has a duty to keep its workers safe by staying open it isnt doing that

Kelly Shannon, 25 March 2020

Some company’s are not advising there staff to stay at home this is one of the biggest heath and safety issue to hit the industry they are failing workers my company has told us to stay at home and is supporting staff

John Plested , 25 March 2020

It bad enough to be in this situation with the whole world being in pandemic even worse when your government cause confusion and stress. What does Michael Gove & Matt Hancock know about a typical construction site? When and if they visit a site in the pas, it is clean tidy and on red carpet. Why don't they just join a normal site and go straight in to the deep sheet. A few points:
1. We use tools between ourselves shovels, skill saws, Jack hammer, etc. Do Sanitise what someone used yesterday?
2. Which canteen ever set up for 2 people a table to comply 2m distance. Just tell me one site who has 100s workforce and still maintain this.
3. Recommendation by the construction council advises employers to facilitate car park ares for those who drive to work. Where in London sites have parking lots?
I can just carry on and on.
The reality is those making decision are out of touch living in a koko land. I advice them to go secret and join a construction site. I am happy to organise a random access on my site.
Wake up leaders, this is where your leadership get tested. This is a PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY! PEOPLE ARE DYING! STOP PLAYING WITH LIFE!

Chris van derholf, 25 March 2020

Our site has stayed open since the Prime Minister's announcement, and I have to say, I don't really want to be on site, but those in higher positions than me have said we are going along with what the Government has said.
I don't agree with it, even though our site is well secluded. I hate having to come in, and risk my, and co-workers health and life for a pay packet.
If I don't come in I may geu disciplinary action, or even sacked!
WTF! Make the decision already and shut it all down, for everybody's sake!!!

John Anon, 25 March 2020

How about brushing up on punctuation spelling and grammar while we are all at home.

Andrew Erlam, 25 March 2020

Two of my sons are involved in the refurbishment of a government owned non essential building alongside other contractors it is impossible for them to avoid contact with builders working along side them.
They do not have access to private health care Mr Johnson? so wake up and smell the coffee CLOSE ALL SITES NOW

Michael Henderson , 28 March 2020

The hypocrisy of the Construction companies is staggering. This highlights the fact that most health and safety policies were only ever brought in to protect companies and shareholders reputations. If I had completed a set of RAMS a year ago which stated that I would turn up on site not knowing whether or not I was carrying a virus that has a 1 in 30 chance of killing someone I wouldn’t have got anywhere near the site! Site Managers, employees, sub contractors and suppliers are being put under pressure to complete projects by companies which should frankly stop putting profits first. They have wasted hours of people’s lives nitpicking over H&S regulations and paperwork. Now is their chance to prove they were doing this for the right reasons!! (I am not leaving my name as I am one of the sub contractors witnessing this)

Anon, 28 March 2020

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