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New site procedures get face masks wrong, union warns

10 Jul 20 The Unite trades union is heading for a falling out with the government’s Construction Leadership Council over face masks.

This does not constitute PPE
This does not constitute PPE

The latest version of the Construction Leadership Council’s site operating procedures – SOPv5 – was published last week. It said that when work has to be undertaken where workers are less than two metres apart, “workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE [personal protective equipment] to protect against Coronavirus (Covid-19)".

Unite says this is wrong and it won't back the site operating procedures until failings are addressed.

The latest advice on PPE, Unite says is a corruption of the basic hierarchy of control process that should be used on all risk assessments. Where a risk cannot be eliminated by other means, then full and adequate PPE including face masks should be provided.

The union is particularly concerned that generic face coverings, possibly homemade, and not proper face masks, are being suggested as appropriate and adequate protection for workers operating at close quarters to one another.

The union thinks that the SOP document needs to be clear that homemade face coverings, Dick Turpin masks and pulled-up Butch Cassidy neckerchiefs do not constitute PPE.

Unite says that the CLC's latest advice is at odds with the major contractors, including those whose executives sit on the CLC, which demand that full PPE is worn when workers are closer than two metres.

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Following a survey by Unite, Balfour Beatty, Galliford Try, Mace and Interserve all confirmed that they insist that proper PPE is worn if a risk assessment identifies that it is required.

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “The latest construction site operating procedures are inadequate.  They undermine the use of the correct PPE and Unite cannot support them as they stand.

“Like many of the major contractors, Unite’s advice to workers is that if you have to work within two metres, full appropriate PPE should be supplied. If it isn’t, work should not be undertaken.

"Face coverings are not PPE and are not an effective alternative.”

The full Site Operating Procedures for construction (version 5) can be downloaded here.

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