Homeowner engagement key to smooth return to work

Seeking government endorsement for industry-created guidance for the safe working in people’s homes is one of a number of action points to have emerged from two online meetings of the Covid-19 Circle.

Other outcomes – such as an offer of bulk-buying non-clinical PPE, an initiative offering key workers discounts, and valuable market analysis – displayed an industry that is selfless and supportive when under pressure.

Chaired by Ryan Green of Clayton Glass, facilitated by the accountancy firm PwC, and open to companies throughout the fenestration supply chain – including systems companies, float glass suppliers, glass processors, window fabricators, installers, other component suppliers, and PR and marketing firms – the meetings set out to establish how the industry could return to work as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Bar only a handful of companies supplying commercial contracts, the overwhelming majority of companies in the glass and glazing industry had either shut down or were operating with a skeleton workforce. Furthermore, evidence provided by Roseview Windows’ Mike Bygrave suggested that most companies were either waiting for a sufficient amount of work to become available before coming back online, or they are waiting until the government said it was safe to do so.

While the Covid-19 Circle meetings were ‘closed’ (which restricts how much can be reported) it was clear that most participants were keen to follow government guidance to protect both their own staff and customers they came into contact with.

However, the general feeling was that government guidance wasn’t clear and consistent, and many people found it difficult to balance the broadly accepted practice of furloughing staff until a specified date (widely believed to be May 11) and supplying customers who were fulfilling live commercial contracts.

This pressure for some businesses to open early to support customers was at odds with business owners’ duties to protect the safety of their staff. And one window fabricator said that one of his contracts was for the NHS, and he was having difficulty sourcing the glass, which meant they may have to be glazed on site at a later date.

One glass processor pointed out that even when the decision to open was made, he had to guarantee a certain amount of work going through the business simply to cover costs.

While the lockdown may be extended to May 11 at the earliest, it is widely expected that ‘social distancing’ will continue for some time.

One factory owner said that since his business was based on repeated processes, he was confident that getting a production facility up to speed where operatives kept a safe distance from each other shouldn’t be difficult.

It was in people homes where the situation becomes more onerous, and it was felt that if a document that laid out the rules of engagement – for example: suitable space between the homeowner and tradesmen, the wearing of appropriate PPE, and no offered refreshments – then that would generate enough confidence for projects to get off the ground.

This would be in conjunction with other new ways of working, such as a greater reliance on digital communications.

In the end, it was felt that it was up to the industry to create this document because, as one participant said, “if we are relying on clear government guidance then we aren’t going to get it”.

However, a competent persons scheme representative said that once such a document was drawn up, getting government approval should be straightforward, potentially making the route back to normality easier following lockdown.

Finally, many component suppliers present at both meetings reported that stock levels were very good, and that any return to work shouldn’t be hampered by a lack of materials.

Chair of the meeting, Ryan Green, said: “I found this first conversation very useful and balanced, and think a few good initiatives came out of it that have the potential to come to fruition in terms of a guidance document on the approach to install. It also stressed the amount of work and constructive discussions needed from the entire supply chain.”

Further meetings are planned over the coming weeks, to develop ideas and start putting these into practice.

The group comprises of 50 business leaders and aims to be open and inclusive, so will be reporting results of discussions to the industry and welcomes feedback, ideas and questions.