The impact of lockdown on your construction projects

Andy Bell
There is increasing optimism within the industry that there may soon be some loosening of the restrictions on construction works in Scotland.

Whilst the construction industry in England has remained open subject to social distancing guidelines, Scotland has seen all but essential projects closed. This would lead to projects remobilising but will not necessarily mean a return to the way things were.

What will be the impact on programme?

Site Constraints:

Clearly there has been an impact on existing projects that have been closed. The result of this is unclear and will depend on the prevalent restrictions that remain post lockdown. The most optimistic position would be that works can return to a similar working practice (i.e. without social distancing measures) with the only impact coming from self-isolation when an operative displays symptoms of COVID-19.  Without detailed modelling a best estimate of the impact of this new method of working would likely lead to at least a 10% increase in programme duration due to loss of productivity. However, that needs to be worked through and is dependent on many factors.

The more likely outcome is the need to maintain social distancing whilst on site. The impact of this on productivity will be significant and will largely depend on each project and its constraints. For example, a tight city centre site with limited space for welfare will struggle to increase facilities to allow for safe distancing measures. Conversely, a rural location with greater free space may be able to increase facilities to assist in maintaining safe distancing through staggered breaks and increased welfare provisions. 

Workforce Availability:

In this lockdown period some construction sites have gone from hundreds of operatives on site to complete shutdown. Consideration needs to be given to how they ‘ramp’ back up. Contractors in Scotland are reviewing plans to remobilise with some putting plans in place for circa 6-8 weeks of slowly increasing numbers on site. They will maintain control measures in practice whilst the teams return to work. However, given the likely constraints on site, it is questionable whether the operative numbers will return to previous levels.

Which leads into the question of worker availability? The furlough scheme will also have an impact on the ability to remobilise. True it has kept many of the industry employed in recent weeks, but cash flow and ability to be productive will not allow for everyone to simply return on mass. Some organisations will be loath to return operatives early as there is a risk of further lockdowns, meaning they could find themselves over staffed again. There is a difficult balance to be struck for those companies.

Material Availability:

We should also consider the availability of materials. We usually operate a 'just in time' delivery policy. However with many construction sites looking to remobilise at the same time, we need to consider how supply of materials can be prioritised without leading to a material shortage There will likely be longer lead-in times and suppliers may look to limit quantity of purchases to maintain order books. We must also consider their productivity in manufacture and keep in mind they will be adhering to the same government guidance. The manufacturing industry in the UK, and indeed abroad, is not going to simply pick up where it left off.  

There will be uncertainty for many variables:

We are unable to say for certain how things will operate in the future as we remobilise projects.

  • The contract terms and how the output rates for activities on site pre-COVID-19 compare to the maximum output rates once sites have remobilised;
  • The social distancing measures that need to be maintained within construction sites, which will impact on the maximum output rates on site;
  • Whether manual works that require a minimum of two people to undertake will be allowed, assuming all other risk assessments have been exhausted and all other personal protection measures are in place;
  • Availability of materials and whether these are sourced from with the UK or from other countries who may not have allowed manufacturing to recommence;
  • Whether the individual sites have capacity to increase welfare facilities;
  • If operatives can travel to work on sites outside of their ‘local’ areas;
  • If longer travel distance is permissible, whether there are facilities to house operatives close to the sites;
  • And finally, it depends on how well all of the above are planned for and managed by your Project and Construction Management teams.

At Faithful+Gould we are in regular discussions with our clients and contractors to consider the impact of remobilising whilst social distancing measures remain in place.

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