Construction News

Wed June 23 2021

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Frustration and fears grow at slowness of shut-down

26 Mar 20 As various developers, house-builders and contractors have been attracting plaudits for announcing that they are putting the welfare of their workforce first and sending them home, we have been contacted by several people suggesting that all is not as it may seem.

Clearly the suspension of works is a managed process that requires time; most sites cannot simply be closed mid-works. But already frustration is rising.

Persimmon said yesterday (25th March), for example: "Construction sites are commencing an orderly shutdown with only essential work taking place, which will be focused on making partly-built homes safe and secure and where failure to complete the build could put customers in a vulnerable position."

But this prompted a message to us, to the effect of: “My dad works for Persimmon and he’s still having to go on site everyday while the rest of the family are sick and on 14-days self-isolation at home.”

Another wrote: “You are crediting some main contractors with shutting sites when in fact they are still operating large scale sites in the city. Some may have shut but they are getting undue credit when they still fail to protect the safety of the public and their workers. I am worried to say who because of implicating myself and others and don’t want to lose my job, but it’s important some more digging is done about which sites have actually shut as they can’t be trusted.”

A third wrote: “As a health and safety professional, I am taking many, many calls from concerned construction workers being forced to attend site by companies because principal contractors and clients continue on blindly ‘business as usual’. These sites are not implementing Build UK Code of Practice [Site Operating Procedures], many are still cramming workers into overcrowded welfare facilities whilst exposing many trades to personal contamination because the two-metre rule simply cannot be implemented safely on sites. This is very worrying and a concern to the HSE professionals of smaller companies being put at risk by the big players.”

Another subcontractor shared with us a communication sent by a main contractor essentially saying: ‘Get on site, or else…’ We are told that this is typical of the situation across the industry:

The main contractor's sternly-worded message actually said: “Government directive states that an individual can travel to/from work if that work cannot be completed at home. There is no direction to close construction sites and therefore we expect all contracted work to continue as per the agreed schedule. Unless the government announce a force majeure is implemented or instruct construction sites to close, we are contractually bound to the contract and parameters that currently exist. This applies both to us, the main contractor, and you, the subcontractor. All our sites will continue to operation safely and within the strict guidelines for hygiene and social distancing.

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“If you are unable to continue the work, or provide alternative arrangements, then you are potentially in breach of contract and liable for any associated costs or delays incurred.  We obviously want to work with you to avoid any problematic outcomes so please get in touch ASAP should you expect there to be any interruptions to your service.

“We understand availability of certain PPE, ie FFP3 dust masks, is compromised.  You are expected to arrive on site with all PPE required to complete your work safely.  It is not our responsibility to provide PPE to subcontractors.  If an individual hasn’t got the required PPE to carry out any task safely, and there is no other work available, they will need to leave site, e.g. stone grinding where dust extraction is not possible.  Alternative or substitute labour will need to be provided by the subcontractor to adhere to the agreed schedule.

“If you need to self-isolate and our site is remaining open we expect you to find a substitute or alternative personnel to keep the project operationally active.”

Here’s another that we received: “Working for an M&E contractor that has contracts all over the country, I am astounded by the main contractors’ stance on this issue. We have sites where they have shut down quite quickly; others where it is business as usual and the ‘get to site or else’ mentality is prevalent. Most sites are taking very little notice of the guidelines and very little has changed in the provision of space, welfare od hygiene provision. Some of our clients are still requesting site meeting and walk rounds.

“Suppliers are closed, or working on skeleton staff, delivery times, where you can get any, have gone from 2-3 days to 5-8 days, permanent staff with family or health concerns have self-isolated – I cannot blame them for this stance – so agency and temporary staff are being called up to fill the shortfall with the consequences this will bring. The work being carried out is inefficient, not to standard and definitely not financially viable. After 38 years in the industry I have seen the worst of it this week and the sooner I am out the better.”

He or she concludes: “All construction except for anything to do with the fight against the virus must cease.”

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