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Keeping Sites Open

Mark Bannon

Keeping Sites Open

Current Government advice is that construction can stay open, whether the work seems to be essential or not, but only if:

  • Vulnerable people stay at home
  • People work from home whenever possible
  • Social distancing is applied

Conflicting advice seems to have been issued in Scotland, where some sites have understood that they must close.  Construction workers, particularly in the access and scaffolding industry, have questioned whether it is possible to work and also apply social distancing.

The Secretary of State for Business was questioned on the issue of individuals going to work and not feeling safe to do so. He was very clear that, where work cannot be undertaken from home, people should go to work and employers must follow Government guidance and Site Operating Procedures (see below).

Arrangements are being made to help people to social distance while travelling to work, these include varying work times to reduce rush hour pressure on public transport.

The NASC issued a statement on 24 March 2020 calling on Main Contractors to recognise that in some situations work would not be able to continue.  The document can be found here.

The NASC also issued a Risk Assessment Template Email for scaffolding contractors to send to clients to request site specific risk assessment information.  The document can be found here.

Site Operating Procedures have been developed by Build UK and issued by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC). An updated version can be found here. The CLC has confirmed that sites which cannot implement the Site Operating Procedures should not remain open.

Where the result of a risk assessment is that the employer decides to withdraw their workers from site, arrangements must be made to address the contractual issues which may arise from that decision. General Guidance on Contractual Issues has been issued by Build UK in conjunction with Wedlake Bell and can be found here.

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Coronavirus Job Retention / Furlough Scheme

Ross Holdstock

Coronavirus Job Retention / Furlough Scheme

When the NASC phoned all NASC members on Thursday and Friday last week, the top concern was putting the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, commonly known as the furlough scheme, into action.

Late on Thursday the Government finally published detailed guidance on the scheme which can be found here.

Claims will be made through an online portal which is currently being built. The portal is due to open during April 2020 with the first refunds to employers being made before the end of April.

The information needed to make a claim is quite short. Details of individual employees and their periods of furlough must be kept by the employer, but the claim will only need the following:

  • your ePAYE reference number
  • the number of employees being furloughed
  • the claim period (start and end date)
  • amount claimed
  • your bank account number and sort code
  • your contact name and phone number

Key points about the scheme are:

  • The scheme is intended to support employers to keep employees on the payroll who would otherwise need to be made redundant because there is no work for them.
  • The scheme should not be used where there is work available, except for staff who are shielding under guidance from Public Health England.  For further information on shielding see here
  • The scheme is not to be used for employees who are sick or self-isolating, see guidance on sick pay here.
  • The earliest start date for a furlough is 1 March 2020.
  • Employers should discuss the furlough with their staff and make any changes to the employment contract by agreement. See below for further details and for a sample letter which can be used. While the employee is on furlough employment continues with all other associated terms and conditions of service.
  • Furloughed employees must go home and not work throughout the period of furlough.
  • Employees can be furloughed and returned to work as many times as needed but the minimum period of furlough is 3 weeks.
  • You can only submit one claim every three weeks

Placing Employees on Furlough – Keeping a Record – Varying Terms of Service

The terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme include that to be eligible for subsidy an employer should write to every employee to be placed on furlough, confirming that they have been furloughed, and keep a record of the communication.

For most employees this change will be a variation to their terms of service, which due to the emergency circumstances and no other beneficial alternative, it is very likely that an employee would agree to. It will be prudent for employers to obtain a record of the an employee’s agreement.

When furlough ceases the employee’s terms of service will be varied again, perhaps returning to the pre furlough position, perhaps to something different, even to the start of a redundancy procedure. It will be helpful later if this uncertainty is understood by employees at the time of furlough.

An example letter to employees is available here.

This letter is generic and attempts to give a reasonable start point for a communication to employees which meets the above objectives. Users should adapt the draft letter to their particular circumstances.

The reference to not undertaking work for any other employer whilst on furlough is not strictly correct. However, within our industry sub sector a number of employees have undertaken regular additional work away from their primary employer, this reference is intended to bring any instances to light to their main employer to avoid problems at the time of notification/submission to HMRC when claims are made.

This information is intended only as ‘general’ information, it does not constitute advice for the purposes of any individual case and cannot be a substitute for specific professional advice based on the circumstances of any such case. The NASC/author cannot accept any liability for any loss or damage, however arising, to any person or organisation using this information/document.

If you have further queries please email enquiries@nasc.org.uk including your telephone number.

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CISRS Requests Lenience on Recently Expired Cards

Cisrs Logo Black Cropped

CISRS Requests Lenience on Recently Expired Cards

CISRS is calling on employers and those responsible for site access and card checking procedures to use their discretion towards workers whose cards have expired since 1st February 2020 until the current COVID 19 restrictions are lifted.

Due to the closure of CISRS Training Providers and the suspension of HS&E tests, operatives are currently unable to renew their cards.

Rather than set a prescriptive time extension to expired cards, e.g. 6 months – 12 months, at this time, CISRS will continue to review the situation and make a further statement when we have more clarity regarding when centres can reopen.

We would expect cardholders to attend the required courses and renew their cards ASAP once approved providers have reopened.

Depending upon the length of time centres remain closed and the subsequent backlog of those requiring training or assessments, we will implement a realistic timescale to rectify the situation.

Until now we have been issuing a letter confirming an individual’s qualifications and asking for them to be allowed to work until they are able to renew their cards. However, if we can have an industry wide understanding that recently expired cards can be accepted during this period, it will negate the need for the letter saving a huge amount of time, effort and administration for operatives, employers and CISRS staff.

Both CISRS and NOCN administrative staff are working from home allowing service to continue, CISRS cards are being issued and queries responded to.

Thank you for your cooperation and support.

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NASC Calls for “Essential” Clarity

Nasc Shortlisted For Top Citb Award

NASC Calls for “Essential” Clarity

The NASC is calling on Government to provide a clear definition of what qualifies as “essential” construction industry activities as a matter of urgency.

The NASC notes that the Site Operating Procedures – Protecting Your Workforce document, issued by the Construction Leadership Council in conjunction with Build UK, states “non-essential physical work that requires close contact between workers should not be carried out” but believes confusion surrounds what works are deemed essential.

NASC Managing Director Robin James said: “While the Site Operating Procedures document has provided a great deal of assistance for main contractors and subcontractors – including those in the access and scaffolding industry – this crucial recommendation is far too open to interpretation, leading to inconsistencies in approach from site to site.

“It’s time for the Government to provide clarity on this issue; helping to ensure that the appropriate balance is struck between keeping core industry activities in operation whilst also protecting the health and safety of thousands of employees, their families and the population of the UK as a whole.

“Until the Government takes action on this point, we are continuing to call on principal contractors to follow the Site Operating Procedures guidance, paying particular attention to PPE including provision, storage, and establishing single or multi use, welfare, hand washing and maintaining the 2m social distancing recommendation.”

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Advice on Scaffolding Inspections

Generic H&s 2

Section 12(4) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 states that ‘every employer shall ensure that a working platform used for construction work and from which a person could fall 2 metres or more is not used unless it has been inspected within the previous 7 days.’

This doesn’t provide any flexibility for ‘out of service scaffolds’ and it must be realised that even without regular use, the condition of these structures can still deteriorate and they can become unsafe.

However, if scaffolds are no longer required for construction purposes, regulation 12(3) allows for work equipment ‘to be inspected at suitable intervals’ and each time that exceptional circumstances which are liable to jeopardise the safety of the work equipment have occurred.’ (e.g. high winds, ice/snow, or collision of a vehicle etc.)

Therefore, whilst it is not possible to completely discontinue scaffold inspections, intervals between inspections may be extended when structures are ‘taken out of service’. Suitable intervals between inspections should therefore be determined by risk assessment and will of course vary dependant on the type of scaffold, how it has been constructed, its location and potential exposure to the elements etc.

A risk assessment for each structure must therefore be carried out (and recorded) to determine maximum intervals between inspections. Assessments should take into account (but not necessarily be limited to) things like:

  • Is it situated within a building, or a very sheltered location (i.e. not subjected to wind/rain/snow.)?
  • Is it situated outdoors and exposed to moderate or severe weather conditions?
  • Is it free standing or tied in?
  • Are the boards still in position, are they securely tied down or loose?
  • Can the foundations be guaranteed?
  • Is it subject to vibration (e.g. nearby machinery)?
  • Will it be subject to extreme temperatures, hot/cold?
  • Is there a possibility of it being struck by a vehicle?
  • Is cladding or sheeting fitted?
  • Is it a ‘bespoke design scaffold’ or is it a conventional arrangement conforming to a TG 20 compliance sheet?

Of course, the issue of what is considered ‘suitable intervals’ will vary from person to person. In reality, some may still require a 7-day inspection and whilst it may be determined that others can be safely inspected at greater intervals, periods in excess of one month may be difficult to justify.

However, to minimise the opportunity for damage/deterioration to occur and extend inspection intervals as long as possible, it may be prudent to tie down scaffold boards; remove any sheeting or netting; fit additional ties and/or bracing; etc.

As stated above, in addition to extended inspection intervals, all out of service scaffolds must be inspected immediately after any event suspected or likely to have affected the scaffolds strength or stability has taken place (e.g. severe weather, collision of vehicle, undermined foundations etc.)

Access to all out of service scaffolds must also be prevented, so far as is reasonably practicable . e.g. Ladders removed, decking removed, barriers fixed, clear and obvious signs fitted etc. to prevent other workers, passers-by and intruders from gaining access. You will also need to take into account if/how access will be gained by a scaffold inspector, when an inspection is required.

All out of service scaffolds must also be subjected to a thorough inspection and where necessary made good, before being returned to service or dismantled. All inspections require to be suitably recorded and maintained.

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Don’t Put Pressure on Contractors

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Don’t Put Pressure on Contractors

The NASC is calling on main contractors to refrain from placing unreasonable pressure on access and scaffolding contractors to continue working on sites.

The NASC recognises that the Government’s latest Covid-19 restrictions do not put a stop to construction industry activities but also believes that no contractor should feel obliged – through fear of delay penalties or otherwise – to send operatives to sites that they deem unsafe.

The NASC has advised scaffolding contractors to make risk-based assessments of every project they are currently undertaking and take note of the Site Operating Procedures – Protecting Your Workforce document issued by the Construction Leadership Council in conjunction with Build UK.

NASC Managing Director Robin James said: “We have made considerable efforts to speak with scaffolding contractors of all shapes and sizes to better understand the challenges they are currently facing.

“Through this engagement it has become apparent that many contractors are being unduly pressurised to continue working on sites. The NASC believes that employee health and safety should be prioritised at all times and that scaffolding contractors that choose to withdraw operatives from site should not be punished for doing so.

“Additionally, the NASC repeats its call for Government to provide more detailed advice to the construction industry.”

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Self-employment Income Support Scheme

Joshua Britton

Self-employment Income Support Scheme

On Thursday 26 March the Government announced a new Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) to support the self-employed, and members of partnerships, who have lost income due to coronavirus.  The detailed guidance can be found here.

To be eligible for the scheme self-employed must meet all the criteria below:

  • Be self-employed or a member of partnership;
  • Have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to coronavirus;
  • File a tax return for 2018/19 as self-employed or a member of a trading partnership. Those who have not yet filed for 2018/19 have an additional four weeks until 23 Aril 2020 to do so;
  • Have traded in 2019/20; be currently trading at the point of application (or would be trading except for coronavirus) and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021
  • Have trading profits of less than £50,000, and more than half of their total income coming from self-employment.

The scheme will provide a grant to eligible self-employed individuals or partnerships, based on trading profit for the last 3 tax years, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

Note:

  • This scheme is being delivered by HMRC.
  • Eligible self-employed should not contact HMRC now.
  • HMRC will contact eligible self-employed directly once the scheme is operational and invite them to apply via their usual .gov login. If you receive a phone call or email asking you to click a new link do not click it, it is a scam. The grant will be paid directly to the eligible customers’ bank account.
  • Grants are expected to start to be paid out in June 2020.

If an individual needs financial help whilst waiting for SEISS, they should consider claiming Universal Credit, see Understanding Universal Credit for further information.

For further information on the Self -employment Income Support Scheme also see here.

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Sick Pay

Jordan Walsh 1 Close Up

Sick pay

For employers with fewer than 250 employees, the Government has stated that for those employees away from work self-isolating, statutory sick pay (SSP) will be payable from day one rather than day three of absence. Additionally that qualifying employers will be able to reclaim the cost of SSP paid in respect of up to two weeks per employee away in such circumstances.

Employees will not require a Fit Note or Certificate if sickness absence is through self-isolation and the employer accepts same. Records must be kept. When fit and available for work again such employees can be furloughed.

Government advice can be found here.

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VAT Payment Deferral

Pay Your Vat Bill 3626071071

VAT Payment Deferral

Businesses due to make a VAT payment between Friday 20 March and Tuesday 30 June do not have to make that payment.

Returns should be made as usual but direct debit payments can be cancelled immediately.  You do not need to apply to anyone. The amounts deferred need not be paid until March 2021.