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11/06/2020

No shortcuts: Restarting outdoor work amid the risk of Covid-19

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Ecological consultants are being encouraged to return to outdoor surveying and supervision. But firms must understand the full range of Covid-related risks and reflect that in risk assessments, says Ben Kite

At the time of writing, the construction industry has largely paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has now indicated that work should continue where it is safe to do so. The government’s position is presumably a reflection of the fact that maintaining some level of momentum is vital.

The ecological consultancy sector plays a key supporting role in delivering projects and ensuring that their environmental consequences are acceptable.

Data gathered in the field helps both project developers and planning authorities to make the right calls to protect the environment.

Defra wrote to the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management to say that, subject to safety measures, “ecologists and environmental managers should therefore be able to continue with outdoor work, including ecological surveying and supervision, where they can continue to follow Public Health England guidelines”.

Ecological consultancies are now faced with hard decisions about what outdoor work they should carry out and in what circumstances, without putting their staff or others at risk. The directors of each company facing this decision must ensure that every work-related activity has been subject to a comprehensive and dynamic risk assessment that has carefully considered and mitigated the risks to every staff member and indeed the public – from the moment an individual leaves home to carry out work to the moment they return home.

“Ecological consultancies are now faced with hard decisions about what outdoor work they should carry out”

It is crucial to ensure that the risk of spreading Covid-19 is addressed in these risk assessments, even where the individual tasks involved in an activity include those that arise as a result of routine tasks such refuelling a car.

For example, at EPR, project managers must explain in each risk assessment why it is necessary for the work to proceed, prove that they have applied our internal guidance on dealing with the risks associated with Covid-19, as well as applicable government guidance, and then carefully examine every unique aspect of the work activity in question to identify and mitigate any task-specific risks that cannot be anticipated. Each risk assessment must then be read and approved by a director.

Professional bodies like CIEEM are working on guidance to help members carry out their work safely, but it is vital that the industry shares tips to establish a new best practice to enable key activities to be carried out safely. 

Ben Kite is managing director and principal ecological consultant for EPR

Image credit | iStock

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