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A urgent warning has been issued by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) that the construction sector risks being shut down by the government if contractors fail to follow safety measures in the face of rising Covid-19 transmission rates. Firms need to ensure they are following Site Operating Procedures (SOPs), introduce testing and, in London, support the reduction of overcrowding on the tube.
Although new business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has recently confirmed that “firms and tradespeople in the construction sector and its supply chain should continue to operate during this national lockdown,” there are growing concerns that as transmission rates rise, public and government opinion may yet change, resulting in a covid construction shutdown.
“It is crucial that we break the cycle of transmission in this particularly hazardous phase of the pandemic,” says BESA’s CEO David Frise. “The government is solidly behind keeping construction and its related professions working, but we must do everything we can to keep our people and the general public safe if we want to continue enjoying that support.”
The Association is urging employers to take advantage of new Covid-19 testing facilities and to revise their safety procedures in light of updated guidance. The Association is also advising its members to carry out widespread ‘asymptomatic testing’ because one in three of those infected display no symptoms. Community testing is now being rolled out across the country and is particularly focused on people who are unable to work from home, including those employed on construction sites and carrying out essential building services in homes and commercial properties.
“The industry has demonstrated that it can operate safely and responsibly, but there is absolutely no room for complacency,” says Frise. “The country is in the worst phase of the pandemic and we need to manage our way through the next few weeks very carefully.
“The minister is absolutely right to point out that construction professions, including building engineering services, are making a crucial contribution to the economic and social well-being of the country, but in order for that work to continue we have to keep everyone safe. It will only take a few ‘rogue’ sites or workers not abiding by the rules to spoil things for everyone.”
He urged BESA members and the wider building services community to review its operating procedures in light of the updated SOPs; carry out comprehensive testing and follow the guidance on face coverings and transport restrictions. Free SOP training is available online via the BESA Academy.
BESA is also urging members with sites in London to work with their supply chain and neighbouring sites to introduce staggered start and finish times and support workers to avoid travelling during peak times of 05:45 – 08:15 and 16:00 – 17:30 and to walk or cycle as part of their journey.