Get off the fence

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell says that now is not the time for reading between the lines.

As the industry gears up for a return to work, with systems companies, component suppliers and fabricators among the first businesses to open their doors to a skeleton staff, there are concerns that official advice is vague and inconsistent.

At the latest Covid-19 Circle meeting, organised by Ryan Green of Clayton Glass and facilitated by PwC, companies shared experiences about how they were gearing up operations.
While some were claiming that demand (even from homeowners) was driving this decision, others were saying that all parties – homeowners, installers, business owners – were hesitant and that a return to normal still looked a long way off.

Interestingly, conversations on online forums seem to support this apparent contradiction, with some eager to return to work, while others insist that no-one should consider working in people’s homes until a solid green light is given from government.

Frustratingly – especially for those who are seeing demand for their services increase – official advice is considered inconsistent and misleading.

Last week, we reported on how the GGF had clarified its position regarding government advice.

“There is no doubt that some of the government’s messages for our industry have caused confusion and misinterpretation,” John Agnew, GGF’s managing director, said. “The GGF can’t answer for the government but can only interpret and relay the information as and when we receive it.”

John said that government did not distinguish between essential and inessential workers in construction and is keen for the construction industry to continue, as long as it is safe to do so under Public Health England guidelines and in line with the government’s social distancing guidelines.

For further clarity, the GGF urged employers to do the following: only continue to work if it is safe to do so within the health and safety guidelines as published on the government website; conduct a thorough health and safety risk assessment; and check with insurers that they are covered for Public Health and Health and Safety Employer liability.

However, companies involved in the Covid-19 Circle meeting argued that the majority of the fenestration industry is considered ‘home improvement’ and not construction. They also pointed out that advice from Certass was both clearer and at odds with the GGF, which is to stay out of people’s homes.

Speaking to Glass Times, Certass’s Jon Vanstone said: “I can’t see anything on the government guidelines that say you can work in the home other than emergency repair.”

Since the Covid-19 Circle meeting on Monday, a template letter has been circulating within the industry. This would be addressed to companies’ own MPs to seek clarification on the matter.
Part of the letter reads:

“As an industry we have been extremely responsible in our response to the lock down measures to date. I am proud of this. The financial cost we collectively suffer of this compliance is higher than for many others given that the vast majority of those working in the industry are self-employed. This is hurting us badly and I can see that patience is running out for many.
“I am extremely concerned that if the specifics of our industry are not addressed when lock down measures are eased; we will end up with the same level of confusion as we had on the 24th of March. This simply isn’t fair when this confusion can be avoided so easily.”

Personally, I find it amazing that a situation as serious as preventing the widespread transmission of a potentially fatal illness being weighed up with the difficult task of keeping businesses viable is being muddied by semantics.

If there was ever a time for clear unambiguous advice, it is now.

However, thanks to this uncertainty, we are seeing the glass and glazing industry making the big decisions, and you can see some of those thought processes in a recent discussion Emplas had with some of the industry press.