Socialist Worker

Building bosses putting lives at risk by ignoring ‘distancing’

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2701

It is almost impossible to maintain social distancing on construction sites

It is almost impossible to maintain social distancing on construction sites (Pic: Eric Haglund/flickr)


Construction bosses are forcing workers to put their lives at risk. They have repeatedly called for construction workers to be treated as “essential workers”.

Their reasoning is that as long as people are still building banks and offices in central London, there is still profit to be made.

On Monday a number of sites in England reopened after allegedly new procedures were put in place.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) is a bosses’ organisation made up of the largest firms.

Its co-chair is MP Nadhim Zahawi, who is also the Tory ­minister for business and industry. 

The CLC is now onto its third set of advice for “Site Operating Procedures” since the advent of the coronavirus.

One was published 1 April then withdrawn just hours later. It seems that the bosses’ advice was too stringent for the bosses.

It was replaced with less strict advice that had previously been issued on 23 March.

The 1 April guidelines said the two-metre rule to keep people distanced from each other was necessary. But the CLC retreated to the earlier advice which suggested two?metre social distancing is simply a good idea.

Observed

The CLC updated its advice on Site Operating Procedures again on 15 April, suggesting alternative ways of working.

This includes limiting the number of workers in a space where social distancing is not being observed, and getting workers to bring their own food instead of using canteens.

It still does not require social distancing. It does not consider that PPE should be worn to protect against the coronavirus, except as a “last resort”.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has signed up to these ­guidelines, though how it plans to enforce them is a mystery. The HSE has not been carrying out routine site visits since March.

The complex webs of subcontracting and tendering competition are partially behind the drive to keep the sites open.  

The Financial Times newspaper reported that delays to construction will breach existing contracts with landowners and developers, with legal action likely.

While house building has slowed dramatically, major construction work continues.

The unions, while expressing concerns for safety, seem keen to play their part in keeping the sites going.

For instance, Unite and train drivers’ union Aslef asked for start times at construction sites to be staggered to avoid peak time 

overcrowding on Tubes and trains.

Required

Unite official Pete Kavanagh said, “It is imperative that construction firms stagger workers’ start and finish times.

“This should be happening on every site and employers should be liaising with each other, but also with oversight from industry 

federations, to make sure these times are different.”

Which is a little short of what is required.

Construction workers are forced to go to work, particularly since umbrella schemes and bogus self-employment mean that for most there are no financial safety nets.

The bosses’ attitude to workers’ on-site safety is unreliable at the best of times. Some 2,926 enforcement notices, which require a change due to an unsafe situation, were issued on sites in 2019.

On average, more than 30 workers a year die on sites. The rate of reported serious injuries is three times that of other workers.

Now more lives are being put at risk so the building bosses can keep their profits. If a site isn’t building a hospital or similar it should be closed—and the building bosses’ huge profits should pay the wages of the workers


Testing time for surveyor

A surveyor has been arrested on suspicion of illegally selling coronavirus testing kits to construction workers in a National Crime Agency investigation.

The 39 year old surveyor from Uxbridge, west London, was stopped on Sunday while driving his car.

Inside the vehicle were 250 Covid-19 testing kits.

He was arrested under the Fraud Act 2006 after making false and misleading claims about the capability of the tests.

He told investigators he was planning on selling the kits to construction workers.

He was released on conditional bail.


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