BLOG: Health and safety of workers is imperative as construction sites debate return to work
Cranes dominate the skyline of a construction site
As the UK looks tentatively towards an end to coronavirus lockdown, Anthony McCormack says there are some big questions facing a construction industry which has clear and obvious problems enforcing social distancing. People need to make careful and informed decisions.
So as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the public health crisis has, as predicted quickly rolled in to an economic crisis with an estimated 33 per cent to be knocked off the UK’s GDP this year!
Need I remind people that negative economic growth for two quarters is officially classified as a recession.
The construction industry remains front and centre of the debate about appropriate responses given the critical nature of the industry from an economic point of view. And talking of appropriate responses, it was interesting to note how some social media posts had made very public the difficulty in social distancing in the industry. As a result, some companies and workers were being vilified for essentially doing nothing more than following Government advice.
There is clearly both difficulty and dilemma for construction workers. It is the perfect storm in terms of the high percentage of self employed workers involved, their total inability to work from home and the difficulty they will clearly have in managing social distancing.
That is not to mention the many workers who are unable to afford not to work and the much higher than average mental health issues they carry, including high suicide rates.
So the question of should construction work continue or restart, like it has now in Spain for example, is a tough one and one that requires more than an off-hand answer.
I believe that the government is right to not make a blanket rule and shut down all construction sites. Some are critical buildings and services and all are different in terms of their size and type and have unique challenges in respect to managing social distancing and worker safety.
Therefore, as ever under strict H&S guidelines, construction firms from sole traders to major PLCs need to make a balanced decision on a site by site basis, and ensure that the health and safety of workers and the public is ensured at site level.
Of course now, that means maintaining social distancing. If you can’t do that, you are not managing a known risk properly on your site!
Practically speaking, this also means proper allocation and use of PPE which is beyond my expertise so I won’t comment. But to give one glaring example of a practice that needs changing – PLEASE don’t have people lining up to all press the same fingerprint button to sign in bio-metrically. I can’t believe I actually saw that particular blunder taking place.
As the industry is lobbying to have freedom to make individual decisions, I’m imploring leaders, please reflect carefully and make informed decisions valuing humans at this challenging time!