Thinking | 10 September 2020

Deconstructing the reopening roadmap: guidance for employers at large-scale construction sites in metropolitan Melbourne

By John O’Kane, Ed Paton, Rebecca Pickering and Ben McIver

The Victorian Premier last Sunday unveiled the Victorian Government’s four-step plan to ease metropolitan Melbourne out of the current Stage 4 restrictions and into a state of ‘COVID Normal’.

The Victorian Government has now published a specific roadmap and guidance for the construction industry. The guidance, available on the Victorian Government website, includes information relating to small and large-scale construction sites and early-stage development sites.

Following on from our article last week, we take a closer look at these changes and consider their impact on employers at large-scale construction sites. We note that the information provided in this update is subject to any further Government directions or announcements.

Step 1

Step 1 of the roadmap for reopening will commence at midnight 13 September. Under this first step, the existing Stage 4 restrictions will continue to apply.

As we reported last week, large-scale construction sites in metropolitan Melbourne are currently required to adhere to a strict daily maximum of 25% of their baseline workforce or five workers, whichever is greater.

Step 2

Subject to trigger points and public health advice, metropolitan Melbourne will move to the second step of the roadmap for reopening on 28 September. In order to move to this second phase of reopening, metropolitan Melbourne will need to achieve an average daily case rate of 30 to 50 COVID-19 cases over a 14 day period (with public health advice regarding the transmission source).

Under this ‘restricted’ phase of the roadmap, employers at large-scale construction sites must limit the daily maximum number of onsite workers to the greater of 85% of their baseline workforce or 15 workers. As noted in our previous article, this cap will operate as a daily maximum, not as an ‘at any one time’ measurement.

By way of illustration, if an employer has calculated their baseline workforce to be 100 employees, the employer will be permitted during this phase to increase their daily maximum number of onsite workers from 25 workers to 85 workers. The baseline workforce is calculated to be the average daily number of workers onsite across the project’s lifecycle, as derived from the project’s resourcing plan as at 31 July 2020.

Step 2 represents a significant improvement to current restrictions.

The daily worker cap will operate in conjunction with obligations on employers to limit worker movement between sites. These obligations remain unchanged from the existing Stage 4 restrictions and limit workers to attending one site per week, and specialist contractors to attending three sites per week. Employers must also have High-Risk COVIDSafe Plans in place and ensure that a dedicated COVIDSafe monitor is present onsite while workers are present.

We note that, while small construction sites will still be subject to the existing Stage 4 daily cap of five workers per site, specialist contractors will be able to visit five small sites per week, and a maximum of two small sites per day.

Steps 3 and 4

Subject to trigger points and public health advice, metropolitan Melbourne will move to the third step of the roadmap on 26 October. In order to move to this third phase of reopening, Victoria will need to achieve an average daily case rate of less than five COVID-19 cases over a 14 day period and less than five cases with an unknown source in the last 14 days. Given the numbers at present, this seems a long way off.

This third step marks the point when the industry can start operating as ‘normal’, with the removal of a fixed worker cap for employers at both small and large-scale construction sites and the ability for workers to move between sites freely.

It is important to note however that staff and visitors must continue to comply with physical distancing requirements and density quotients to shared spaces on all constructions site (including workspaces and tea rooms), as well as ongoing requirements relating to face coverings, good hygiene and record keeping.

Employers must also maintain a compliant High-Risk COVIDSafe Plan and have a dedicated COVIDSafe monitor onsite.

The industry will remain operating under these conditions until the end of the fourth and final step, which will occur when Victoria records no new COVID-19 cases for 28 days, no active cases, and no outbreaks of concern in other Australian states or territories.

General remarks

The Step 2 changes in relation to the daily worker cap are a welcome relief to the construction sector which has shown it can manage both safety and health risks diligently and responsibly.

The industry will be hoping to move as quickly and safely as possible to the third step of the roadmap, where worker caps are removed and sites can return to a full workforce. This will be important for the viability of existing projects and their revised timelines. It will also be important to encourage the commencement of new projects and for new investment. Step 3 seems a long way off but the construction sector will benefit significantly from Step 2 of the roadmap and from the recently announced fast-track projects.

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