THE Prime Minister Boris Johnson blew the whistle on the UK returning to work last night as he announced he will set out a plan for reopening schools and restarting the economy next week.
A confirmed date for lifting the lockdown has yet to be set, but speculation is rife that a slow restart will begin very soon.
The Prime Minister stressed that, even though the UK is ‘past the peak’, a slow return to normality would be necessary so that we do not ‘risk a second spike’.
The construction industry was been classified as key workers, and so were not obliged to completely close as long as they were able to meet the HSE’s social distancing criteria. But with supply lines compromised and travel disrupted, many sites doing non-essential work were closed in line with the lockdown policy.
The Government is continuing to work closely with unions and business group to discuss guidelines for working as the lockdown is lifted.
THE Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) is working with the Construction Products Association (CPA) to monitor the manufacturing and distribution of their respective members in order to meet the needs of housebuilders, contractors and SME builders as sites re-open.
They are heading up the Product Availability Group, set-up by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), which is co-ordinating the industry’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The BMF is gaining information from across its membership to identify items likely to be in short supply. Early shortfalls in plaster and plasterboard supply were the first to be flagged up under the monitoring system, and steps are being taken to resolve that shortfall.
John Newcomb, chief executive of the BMF, said: “The Product Availability Group, which includes Tier 1 contractors, large and SME housebuilders along with merchants and manufacturers, is meeting every two weeks to keep a watching brief on the situation across the entire construction industry supply chain.
“Nothing like this has happened before and the work we are doing is unprecedented. The spirit of collaboration forged within the CLC makes it possible for the whole materials chain to work together to resolve any challenges in a proactive way and ensure demand is met across the construction sector.”
Peter Caplehorn, CPA chief executive, said: “The CPA has been closely monitoring the operational status of its members, who are looking for sustainable demand for their products before starting to phase in more factory production, whilst at the same time ensuring the health and well-being of their workforce.
“With the BMF, we are discussing with Government and the wider industry the need to encourage builders and merchants to safely re-open more sites and branches, in addition to continuing support for ‘essential’ activity such as key NHS and infrastructure projects, repair and maintenance.”
The BMF’s five larges merchant members, along with five of the CPA’s largest manufacturing members are part of the Product Availability Group.
THE Chancellor has announced a simple micro loan scheme with a 100% Government-backed guarantee for small businesses.
The new Bounce Back Loans scheme will offer to up £50,000 to small businesses recovering in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and should reach businesses withni days of applying through the short online application.
"Our smallest businesses are the backbone of our economy and play a vital role in their communities," said Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak. "This new rapid loan scheme will help ensure they get the finance they need quickly to help survive this crisis.
"This is in addition to business grants, tax deferrals, and the job retention scheme, which are already helping to support hundreds of thousands of small businesses."
The annonucement shows that he has listened to the concerns of local builders who have struggled to access affordable finance during the lockdown, said the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). However, with many small to medium-sized (SME) construction sites still shut, an SME Support Fund that issues grants, instead of loans, is needed to help builders get back to business once lockdown ends.
Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The Chancellor has listened to local builders’ concerns about cashflow, raised by the FMB, and brought forward a simple loan scheme for viable firms. This marks a positive step when just 4% of builders were able to acquire credit through previous schemes.”
“Cashflow is currently builders’ biggest headache because many construction sites remain shut. The combined challenges of accessing scarce materials, working safely in a client’s home, and protecting the health of the construction workforce, has left many firms unable to continue bringing income in. An SME Support Fund in England, and Northern Ireland, similar to the ones in Scotland and Wales, is needed to issue grants and ensure that these firms can hit the ground running post-lockdown.
"Builders, and the construction industry, will thrive if they are able to reinvest their profits back into the economy, rather than paying back a loan.”
MIRKA UK is launching a dual voltage Mirka® LEROS in May, designed to provide a flexible, convenient tool for decorators working at different site locations, making light work of wall and ceiling sanding.
The two-in-one 110v and 230v lightweight Mirka® LEROS sander has a brushless motor and incorporates an innovative sanding head with 180-degree flexibility, and a 5mm random orbital movement, making it extremely user-friendly.
The Mirka® LEROS’ flexible and practical design provides benefits such as ergonomic working positions and exerts less strain on the operator's body and back. Weighing less than 3.5kg, the operator can sand for longer periods without fatigue.
The operator can also work very close to corners thanks to the sanding head and backing pad design. Due to the random orbital movement, the Mirka® LEROS responds precisely to the operator's movements making the sanding process easy. In addition, it creates a smoother, better finish.
Maintenance of the tool is minimised as there are no carbon brushes to be changed. When combined with Mirka’s dust-free net abrasives and suitable dust extraction, the Mirka® LEROS provides dust-free sanding, making the working environment cleaner and healthier.
The Mirka® LEROS is available with a storage bag. An extension pole can also be purchased to increase the reach by 50cm.
Chris Proffit, Business Sector Manager - Construction and Decorating, for the UK, said: “The launch of the Mirka® LEROS in 2018 was very successful. The dual voltage machine increases the applications including site work where 110v tools are required. The sander still retains its signature lightweight, ergonomic, user-friendly design, providing 180-degree flexibility, 100 per cent comfort and 100 per cent perfection, no matter the angle.”
THE UK’s largest independent coatings manufacturer, HMG Paints Ltd has utilised its manufacturing knowledge and existing alcohol stocks to produce hand sanitiser for front-line workers, care providers and charities in Manchester and across the UK.
The company developed the First Thing Sanitiser, which contains over 70% alcohol, after staff and their families reported being unable to find stocks at other locations. The First Thing name derives from internal communication messages urging staff to make washing their hands the first thing on their mind whether in work or at home.
The company is now working with partners to supply hand sanitisers, based on World Health Organisation recommended formulations, to those who need it the most during the spread of COVID-19, which has led to a national shortage. With a severe shortage for those working in environments with those most vulnerable (care homes, the homeless, charities etc) HMG is keen to help as many get the supplies that are needed.
“Our team of chemists have worked extremely hard on the formulation and it has been a true team effort to make the hand sanitiser available,” said John Falder, managing director. “By utilising our existing alcohol stocks, we believe that we can help the HMG family, our customers and those who need it the most during the current shortages.“
The first batch of First Thing Sanitiser saw donations made to Greater Manchester Police along with local care homes and frontline workers. The current situation in the UK has seen a number of HMG’s customers assist with Government and NHS Infrastructure support initiatives utilising their skills and expertise to help during the current outbreak. The company intends to manufacture as much hand sanitiser as possible and set aside a number of sanitisers to donate to front line workers and others most in need during the crisis.
The paints made by HMG Paints are also being utilised during the current crisis with their commercial, industrial and decorative coatings being used on everything from hospital beds, workbenches, communication equipment, the Nightingale temporary Hospitals and buildings to the trucks and commercial vehicles keeping goods moving across the country.
The Sales Order office is contactable via calling 0161 205 7631 or emailing [email protected].
If you would like information on the sanitiser, which is available in 250ml bottles, please email [email protected]. Priority will be given to essential services to critical industries such as pharmaceutical packaging/health/ transport/utilities/defence throughout the current situation. However, the company have capacity to support anyone who is still in need of sanitiser supplies.
FIGURES for February 2020 just released in the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) point to a lacklustre month for sales through UK builders’ merchants.
February trading is unlikely to have been much affected by the emerging Coronavirus pandemic, pre-dating social distancing, which started on 19 March, and the lockdown measures which took effect on 24 March.
Total Builders Merchants sales during the month were down -1.3% compared with February 2019. Sales in three categories were weaker including the two largest, Heavy Building Materials (-1.9%) and Timber & Joinery Products (-6.9%). Tools was also weaker at -4.0%. Among the categories to show year on year growth, there was strong demand for Workwear & Safetywear (+30.8%) driven by higher demand for protective equipment including masks, googles and gloves. Landscaping sold 7.4% more and Kitchens & Bathrooms grew by 3.5%.
Sales in February were 2.2% higher than in January 2020, despite having two less trading days, and February being one of the wettest on record.
Sales in the three months December 2019 to February 2020 were -1.2% lower than in the same period a year earlier. Nine categories improved, including Workwear & Safetywear (+14.1%) and Landscaping (+5.3%). However Timber & Joinery Products (-6%) and Tools (-4.8%) were weaker.
Overall the 12 months March 2019 to February 202 were down 0.9% on the same period a year earlier, with one less trading day. Average sales per day (which takes trading day differences into account) in the last 12 months were down 0.5%.
BMF CEO John Newcomb commented: “While we all know the figures for the first Quarter will be pretty abysmal when they are released next month, it is interesting to look back at the trend before Covid-19 took hold. It is clear that the negative trend over the past three Quarters has continued into the first two months of 2020.
“Public confidence was already at a low after three years of Brexit uncertainty, and any possibility of a Brexit bounce following the signing of the Withdrawal Agreement in January was swiftly countered by widespread flooding hindering work in February. How long ago that all seems today. We may have to wait until 2021 until we fully understand what the new normal will look like.”
HELLBERG Safety specialist PPE products include highly advanced hearing protection products, face protection and communication solutions for personal wellbeing on site.
Hellberg’s SAFE face protection range offers visor solutions to suit a variety of different internal and external work environments. With a standard product design across all the products, the visors and carriers can be combined with hearing protectors and safety helmets for more complete solutions, or be used as individual visor solutions.
These stylish products give you a multiple options that all fit perfectly together. Choose one of our ready-made combinations, or select your own combination of carrier, visor and hearing protector.
Everything is really well made, comfortable to wear and delivers superb, practical protection for the hazards you’re likely to face - whatever job you’re doing.
The Hellberg Safety PPE range features the latest advanced technologies, modern design, comfort and quality together with great performance to appeals to all types of professional users in high-risk work environments.
LEADING where others follow, Snickers Workwear stretch fabrics deliver unrivalled comfort and close quarter mobility on site.
Snickers Workwear’s hi-tech fabrics and body-mapping designs give plenty of scope for every professional craftsman and woman to stretch their performance on site comfortably. Designed for a wide variety of jobs on site, these LiteWork 4-way stretch work trousers are the ideal choice if you’re working hard in warmer weather.
For maximum flexibility in getting work done, these new Trousers feature detachable holster pockets while the trousers themselves are made from full-stretch material for maximum mobility wherever you’re working while the Cordura®-reinforced Kneeguard™ pockets offer additional comfort and protection.
For maximum functionality there’s also ruler, and cargo pockets for easy access to tools and fixings. They’re all Cordura® reinforced for durability. So check out these newest designs – the optimal choice for craftsmen and women who need to get the job done quickly efficiently on site.
Getting information on the Snickers’ new Stretch Trousers is easy. You can call the Snickers Helpline on 01484 854788, checkout the website and download a digital catalogue at www.snickersworkwear.co.uk or email [email protected]
By the Reverend Kevin Fear, CITB Health and Safety Policy Lead
SO far, there has been little in the way of ‘health and safety gone mad!’ responses to the Government’s actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The steps the Government has introduced are the results of health and safety risk assessments, and never has there been so much talk of PPE or a willingness to wear it.
But the Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to ensure not only the health and safety of employees but also their wellbeing. The COVID-19 Government guidelines give no advice about how to ensure this, and more specifically how to promote positive mental health within the workforce during these difficult times.
On the other side, sites that follow the Government guidelines create environments where workers know their wellbeing is valued. Many of those on site work for small companies or may be self-employed. Right now, having work and financial security while feeling that everything is being done to provide adequate health protection will go some way to promote positive mental health.
There is more that can be done. Having a clear plan and communicating this to workers; daily briefings to remind everyone of the protective measures; spotting when someone is not coping, and providing them with assistance; showing compassion and understanding... all these measures can help with workforce mental health and wellbeing.
In terms of day-to-day measures that everyone in construction can take to look after their mental health, these can vary with individually, but general points include staying active beyond simply the job on site, drinking sensibly and eating healthily.
There will be those who are also caring for children at home or looking after someone who is vulnerable – flexibility around this from supervisors, particularly during the current crisis with schools closed, can achieve a better work-life balance.
CITB has funded the training of thousands of construction industry workers in mental health first aid and the Fairness, Inclusion and Respect programme to help improve industry culture for a healthier workforce. But not everyone is comfortable talking about mental health at work, so the Lighthouse Club, a charity dedicated to the wellbeing of construction workers and their families, has created a helpline app which you can download here. If you are in an immediate crisis call the Construction Industry Helpline on 0345 605 1956 or the Samaritans free on 116 123.
Furloughing and mental health
While there are many who are self-employed, a considerable number of those directly employed will have been furloughed. They will be facing different challenges: here, managers and supervisors can make extra efforts to keep in touch, not to talk about work, but to just make sure that they are all right and that they know where they can get ongoing support, perhaps from HR or from employee assistance programmes.
I discussed some of these issues during an Association for Project Safety webinar on mental health in construction here.
Finally, in the time BC (before COVID-19), the construction industry already had high levels of poor mental health and suicide. I hope and pray, literally, that when we get to AD (after discharge) we will not be seeing evidence that the stress and anxiety of this time just proved too much for some.
Building Mental Health is also an industry resource that provides further tools for employers who wish to improve the mental health provision for their employees.
ECHO has introduced a new range of three domestic and semi-professional use double-sided hedgetrimmers: the HC-2020, the HC-2020R and the HC-2320. These hedgetrimmers, which replace existing models, are lighter in weight and feature a reduced emissions engine which has to be a major consideration in present and future times.
The HC-2020 replaces ECHO’s HC-1501. With its new engine design for lower emissions and 534mm length cutting blades, you get a hedge trimmer with improved ergonomics and better precision for tackling those small to medium jobs. The Japanese double-edged cutter blades offer sharpness and durability while overall the hedgetrimmer is balanced and lightweight at just 4.5kg dry weight. The HC-2020 makes an ideal choice for domestic use and medium-sized professional jobs.
The HC-2020R replaces the ECHO HCR-1501, offering a rotatable handle version of the HC-2020 double sided hedgetrimmer. It’s a lightweight, highly manoeuvrable double-edged trimmer specifically designed for medium-sized jobs and ideal for domestic users or professionals working on small to medium-sized hedges. The rotatable handle may be a small feature but it makes a huge difference. The 5 position handle allows you to find the most comfortable position for cutting at different angles. The HC-2020R weighs in at just 4.6kg dry weight with an even distribution for optimal comfort and performance. The renowned quality of Japanese blades offers super sharpness making precise and clean trimming a breeze.
Replacing the HC-156 the new ECHO HC-2320 is a lightweight, double-sided hedgetrimmer with an extra-long 639mm blade for tackling larger, taller hedges. The lighter weight and ergonomic construction combine with robust components to give you a rugged yet easy to use hedgetrimmer, again with sharp Japanese blades for precise cutting and higher productivity. All the new hedgetimmers come with the latest ECHO low-emission engine for cleaner operation and reduced impact on the environment. Each machine has an industry-leading 5-year domestic or 2-year professional warranty.
For more information, visit www.echo-tools.co.uk or call 01844 278800.