Melbourne’s construction sector has secured significant advocacy victories as new guidelines have addressed several concerns regarding Stage 4 COVID lockdowns.

Following the announcement of Stage 4 restrictions on Monday, there had been uncertainty about how the new measures would affect building sites.

Following consultation between government and industry, however, new guidance issued by Business Victoria has addressed several concerns.

According to the guidance:

  • Subject to enhanced COVID safe practices, supervisors and specialist trades will now be able to move between up to three sites per week during Stage 4 restrictions. This has alleyed previous fears arising out of Monday’s announcement that workers would be restricted to a single site throughout the Stage 4 period. Such a measure, many feared, would have been unworkable as trade contractors who had jobs lasting a few hours or days would not have been able to take on additional jobs whilst Stage 4 restrictions were ongoing.
  • ‘COVID Safe’ workers (see below) and other important support workers will not count toward on-site worker limits – a move which will help the industry to operate in a COVID Safe manner without further impacting upon workforce capacity.
  • The definition of large-scale building construction has been broadened beyond the previously issued definition (above three storeys excluding the basement) to also include projects which are greater than 1,500 meters square, office or retail fit-outs and industrial or large format retail projects. This clarifies that work on projects such as commercial buildings or industrial facilities can operate under the less restrictive regime with regard to workforce limitations which applies to large-scale construction work (maximum of 25 percent of baseline workforce) as opposed to the more restrictive rules which apply to small scale residential projects.
  • Work sites on large-scale building construction may have a maximum of 25 percent of their baseline workforce on site – being the average daily number of personnel on-site across the project lifecycle, as derived from the project’s written resourcing plan as of July 2020. These worksites can operate with 25 per cent of their daily peak and daily total workforce.
  • Small scale residential construction sites may have a maximum of five people as well as one supervisor on site at any one time. This means that a supervisor is allowed in addition to five other workers.
  • Public and private civil works will be treated the same under Stage 4 restrictions. This means that land development and civil construction – critical works toward the enabling of new housing development in greenfield areas – can continue throughout the period. Previously, there had been uncertainty over whether or not private civil construction works would be exempt from specific restrictions on the number of workers allowed on site as the Premier’s announcement had stated only that ‘state and civil works’ would be exempt from these restrictions. (Civil works receive more generous treatment under COVID restrictions compared with building works as the open-air nature of civil construction affords this type of work a lower COVID risk profile compared with enclosed building work.)

Nevertheless, the guidelines make clear that construction businesses have several responsibilities.

In particular:

  • All sites must have a High Risk COVID Safe Plan.
  • This includes a requirement for COVID Safe workers who are specifically dedicated to the oversight of COVID safe functions in the workplace such as those who perform additional cleaning of high-risk touch points or who oversee implementation of COVID-safe work practices.
  • No more than one worker per four square metres of enclosed workspace is allowed.
  • Workers must have a permit in order to attend a work site.
  • Car-pooling to and from work is not allowed.
  • Workers must limit movement between multiple sites and must observe enhanced PPE and hygiene measures if moving between sites.

In a member alert, UDIA Victoria commended the Government for responding to industry concerns.

“While this will no doubt be a tough six weeks for all of us, we commend the Victorian Government, including the Premier’s Office, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions and the vast number of key decision-makers and public servants we have engaged with this week, for working with us,” UDIA said.

“Our advocacy and collaboration has resulted in a more practical set of construction industry guidelines that will keep our work-sites safe, and the pilot light burning, through stage 4 restrictions.”