Coronavirus crisis brings out best and worst of construction

Grant Prior 2 months ago

Responsible construction companies are trying to do their best by employees and clients during the current pandemic.

Sites like Hinkley point are enforcing social distancing measures to ensure work can continue safely
Sites like Hinkley point are enforcing social distancing measures to ensure work can continue safely

Contractors want to keep sites going as long as they are safe for workers and don’t put a strain on public transport.

Many have also offered to help others with initiatives like donating unused personal protective equipment to the NHS.

But some firms have are not behaving properly and have put pressure on their supply chain and site workers to protect their bottom line.

Here the Enquirer shares some of the many cries for help we have received from people who feel let down by their employers and want their plight highlighted.

All the following examples are from emails received by the Enquirer in the last 48 hours from readers.

From a concerned site supervisor….

I thought I’d give you a bit of an insight into the attitude of some Principal Contractors at the moment.

I work in a supervisory role for a well know PC in the UK. A couple of my colleagues did not come into work towards the end of last week because they began to display symptoms of the virus. As you can imagine, I along with several other members of the team had been in close contact with them throughout last week before they stopped coming to work.

It seems that the current stance of the PC is that unless we start showing symptoms we can’t go home to self isolate because we won’t get sick pay. So in essence we are potentially spreading the virus to other people on site and the senior management (not site based) are fully aware of this.

Having spoken with friends in the industry, this attitude seems to be quite common and in my opinion, completely undoes everything the government have announced over the last few days.

Following the announcement by Boris Johnson on Monday night the attitude doesn’t seem to have changed. I was surrounded by tradesmen when I arrived to site Tuesday morning, demanding to know what we are doing about the situation.

The truth is that site staff are not being given clear instructions from senior management so we are just as in the dark as the people working on site. The only thing we are being told is that we need to try and enforce the two metre rule, but practically that is almost impossible because of the nature of work being carried out.

It feels like construction workers are being treated as some sort of expendable resource (including site supervisors) and that if we go home because we start displaying symptoms, we’ll just be replaced.

I wanted to explain how site management are feeling about all of this and that we are trying to do the best we can. We’re not receiving much guidance and the information we are getting is being sent from senior staff that are safe at home working remotely. We’re basically stuck in limbo waiting for someone with enough seniority to make a proper decision.


From a concerned partner of a construction worker…

From what I can see construction workers are not classed as key workers, yet my partner is being told to work as normal.

If there was freak weather, eg. snow on the ground, they would be forced to stop working and I want to know why a global crisis seems to not apply to those in your industry? Many of the workers share vans, tools, toilets, canteens and offices.

Many of the jobs they do cannot be carried out practically or safely with the current social distancing advice. My partner who is in management in this industry,  has to come in to contact with many people on a day to day basis. This completely goes against the advice of no interaction between households.

Each one of them that goes out to work, brings further risk to those in their households that are doing there best to adhere to the guidelines. What about the families of these people in construction? And more importantly, what if those in construction have vulnerable high risk members in their households?

I urge the you to shine a light on this issue as my beloved partner and the many other people in the construction industry are not just putting themselves at unnecessary risk, but by being forced to ignore the current advice, are in turn putting their loved ones at an unnecessary risk also.

I have just this minute had a phone call from my partner telling me that the principal contractors on his site are all wearing masks, yet none have been provided to the contract workers on the ground. The sheer neglect of their duty of care to their employees is so very disappointing.


From a worried site worker….

I am working on (site name withheld) the men are all just standing about demoralised and frightened for their health. No-one is giving us any information about site closures, the hand sanitisers have all run out and I’ve just been told the canteen in compound A has no food .

It is impossible to keep two metres distance when in changing rooms in the morning and going home at night.

We are all getting told by government to stay home but sites are telling us to come into work and we are traveling on crowded buses tube train to get here.

A lot of men are traveling men want to go home to their families before it’s to late but if site won’t officially shut down some men won’t get standby pay.


From a concerned quantity surveyor

I currently work for a Main Contractor as a QS. I am not sure if similar main contractors have the same approach however I am disgusted by the lack of care they are taking for their employees during a national crisis, I really hope it’s not an industry wide problem.

The Government made it very clear to cease non essential working which I’m pretty sure includes building luxury apartments for millionaires in central London.

I received an email this morning from a member of the board communicating the need to carry on working on site and telling our supply chain to do the same.

If they don’t I have been instructed to “rigorously” put subcontractors on notice of delay and tell them they will be held responsible for any delay associated with their non-attendance.

I do hope other construction employees aren’t experiencing the same issues.

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