The Need for Additional Safety Measures for Construction Workers

The Need for Additional Safety Measures for Construction Workers

14th May 2020

The importance of the construction industry to the British economy can be seen in the way that Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed for builders to get back to work. They are seen as being a huge part of the effort to get the country back on track.

Yet, there are fears that more safety measures are needed to allow this to happen safely.

The Worrying Death Rates

A report by the Office for National Statistics looked at Covid-19 death rates by occupation in England and Wales. Among male workers, the highest group was classed as Elementary and includes construction workers.

This group saw a death rate of 21.4 per 100,000 workers. It was even higher than the Caring, Leisure and Service group, which includes nursing assistants and ambulance drivers. This sector has seen 17.9 deaths per 100,000 workers.

The report points out that these numbers don’t give conclusive evidence that any particular occupation leads to a higher risk of getting infected. Yet, it is a worrying trend that makes construction site health and safety a subject that needs to be looked at closely.

Introducing the New Rules

The latest government guidelines cover a range of matters, some of which are general and others that apply to specific industries. In terms of construction sites, there is some concern over how the new ways of working can be safely introduced.

For instance, social distancing is possible on some jobs, when workers can easily be kept a couple of metres or more apart. Yet, in other situations it may be necessary for several workers to act together on a certain task.

Sometimes, different tradesmen will need to work together and this could be when the new rules are of limited use. To help out, the Construction Leadership Council has proposed a 15 minute limit for those situations in which the distancing rule is broken. The government has already advised that this should only be done when essential and with screens in place.

Staggered shifts and the use of face masks and hand sanitiser are a couple of other changes that should be easier to introduce. Early indications suggest that it will mainly come down to planning ahead and then getting used to the new processes. The need for existing safety equipment like a sturdy step unit and boots remains in place.

Looking for the Way Forward

Different countries and cities across the planet are looking at how to get their construction projects back on track in this new reality. In the US, firms in Boston need to provide a Covid-19 safety plan and signed affidavit. The guideline in New York is for “sensible safeguards” that appear broadly similar to the new British rules.

Even within the UK, there have been different sets of guidelines issued. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated that Boris Johnson’s call to get back on site only applies to England, as non-essential construction work is still banned in Scotland.

Perhaps the key to getting the construction industry back up and running with no major health risks is in flexible working. Staggered shifts and longer working days will allow projects to advance more effectively.

The next few weeks will be crucial, as sites get back to work and the effectiveness of the safety measures can be assessed.