Houses being put before health, Unite warns as housebuilders begin return to work

Unite, the UK’s construction union, has warned that there are growing fears that building new homes is being put ahead of the health and welfare of construction workers and their families.

Housebuilding safety

The union is calling on the house building sector to work with it to uphold maximum safety protection and keep up to 250,000 workers employed by the industry and their families safe as sites begin to re-open.

Unite issued its warning after it was announced that house builder Persimmon is due to re-open its sites today (Monday 27 April), Vistry formerly known as Bovis will re-open its sites on the same day and Taylor Wimpey is due to re-open next week (Monday 4 May).

Watered down guidance

Unite warned last week that construction workers are being potentially put in danger as the procedures issued by the Construction Leadership Council, which advises how contractors should organise their site during the COVID-19 pandemic, have been substantially weakened.

Unite is concerned that social distancing will be a major challenge on many house building sites due to the highly casual manner in which they are organised; workers are overwhelmingly officially self-employed and various trades frequently enter and leave sites, diluting safety messages.

Maximum social distancing

Unite is calling on house builders to ignore the watered down CLC guidance with regard to social distancing and instead work to ensure that the two metre rule is observed at all times. To assist with this Unite believes that staggered start times should be introduced.

Unite also believes that house builders need to install additional welfare and rest facilities, which are regularly cleaned in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 on sites.

Campaign hotline

Unite has launched a campaign and a hotline for construction workers who have returned to work and who have concerns about their safety, from the moment they leave their homes until when they return. Workers with safety concerns should contact the union which will then provide advice and support.

Real dangers

Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “House builders are re-opening their sites based on watered down and frankly dangerous guidance. This is putting the desire to build houses before the health of workers.

“Given the nature of house building it will be highly challenging to ensure social distancing and strict cleaning regimes on these sites. Unite urges house builders to disregard the CLC guidance on social distancing but to work with us to ensure that there are no exceptions to the two metre rule.

“If social distancing and rigorous cleaning regimes are not maintained then infection rates will increase and the length of the lockdown will increase.

“It is imperative that the Health and Safety Executive reverses its decision to not undertake proactive inspections during the pandemic. If the government believes it is safe for construction workers to be at work, then it is safe for sites to be inspected.

“If workers feel that they health is being placed at risk then they have a legal right to stop working and they should notify Unite of their concerns.

“When workers identify safety concerns, Unite will swiftly contact the contractor to resolve the problems.  We never disclose who made the complaint but if the contractor fails to make the site safe, they will be named and shamed and the appropriate authorities notified.

“Unite is prepared to work with any house builder to help ensure that social distancing is maintained and other welfare and cleaning provisions are met to protect the workforce.”

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