Has the Two Metre Rule Been Relaxed for the UK Construction Industry?

Has the Two Metre Rule Been Relaxed for the UK Construction Industry?

18th June 2020

There has been some confusion lately over whether the 2 metre social distancing rule has been relaxed in the UK. Does it still apply or can construction sites now abandon it?

The Official Government guidelines still mention this rule about maintaining a 2 metre distance between people at all times. However, there has been a notable softening of the language used in this respect, as pressure has been growing for them to allow more businesses to get back to work.

Government advice now talks about following this rule “where possible” and taking “all reasonable steps” to maintain the appropriate distance. This comes after fears were raised that this restriction was making it more difficult to re-open businesses and get the economy back up and running again.

This change in the wording has led many analysts to speculate that the rule has been relaxed, or that at least some wiggle room or “margin for manoeuvre” has been added to it, allowing businesses to get back to work even if they can’t guarantee 2 metres of distancing.

In those cases where 2 metres of distance can’t be maintained, it is suggested that people sit back to back or side by side. Contact time should also be kept to a minimum in these cases. In terms of the building industry, this rule can be awkward but is currently as vital as traditional safety measures such as hard hats, work boots and safety ladders.

It is worth noting that the rule hasn’t been removed yet. Any business that can maintain this sort of distance between workers and customers should continue to do so. It is hoped that the authorities release new guidelines in the near future to make clear any changes.

What Does Science Say?

Some other countries have more relaxed rules of 1 metre or 1 and a half metres in place. Patrick Vallance is the UK’s Chief Scientist Adviser, and he has pointed out that this isn’t a strict rule or an absolute cut-off, but something that can change depending upon the circumstances.

Further information comes from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). They have written a paper that suggests that regular breaks and side by side working could allow the 2 metre rule to be abolished safely.

It has also been reported that Government officials have been getting in touch with business groups to find out what the general opinion is on making this rule less stringent. The general feeling is that this safety advice may no longer be needed going forward, but there is an understandable degree of nervousness about removing it.

What Should We Do Now?

With an increasing amount of pressure being put on authorities to loosen this rule, it is likely that an update will be issued sooner or later. The signs point towards the 2 metre rule being watered down or removed altogether.

However, for the time being construction sites should be following the current guidelines to maintain the recommended 2 metres wherever possible and by taking all reasonable steps.