FMB: Clarity needed on construction site lockdowns

GREATER clarity is needed from the UK Government on whether or not construction sites should remain open, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has said.

It comes after prime minister Boris Johnston announced a UK lockdown on 23 March. In an accompanying UK Government statement on the announcement, it is stated that travelling to work is allowed in the lockdown, so long as the role ‘absolutely cannot be done from home.’

The statement continues by detailing that gatherings of more than two people (outside of families) should only be held when ‘essential’ for work purposes, adding “But workers should be trying to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace.”

The UK Government’s lack of clear guidance on construction sites came on the same day as Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, advised that all construction sites close. She said, “This morning I was specifically asked on radio about building sites and hair salons and my advice would be to close.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said, “Our members want to do the right thing, but the advice coming from Government is anything but clear. I am calling on the Government to tell my members, today, whether they can continue to go on site and work. Small builders cannot work from home, but without cash grants available now, they risk seeing their livelihoods lost.

“Mixed messages are spreading further anxiety at a time when hundreds of small builders face immediate lost earning, having to make their staff redundant, and seeing their companies go to the wall. The £25,000 grant must be extended to construction, support is needed for the self-employed which make up 37% of the industry, and applications for the Job Retention Scheme must be brought forward.”

The chair of the British Safety Council (BSC) echoed calls from the FMB. Lawrence Waterman, chair of the BSC, said, “The construction sector needs clarity from the government – on most sites social distancing will be impossible or simply unsafe. All non-essential construction should end now so that construction workers can go home and stay home like everyone else.

“Some building work will be deemed essential – for example, building work that will improve access to hospitals or road access which will help tackle the virus. It is also the case that half-built buildings need to be made safe and workers should prioritise work that can safely suspend construction for as long as necessary.

“Many thousands of construction workers are self-employed and don’t get paid if they don’t go to work. The government and developers need to work together to ensure that workers are protected when their building sites are shut down. We can’t have scenes like this morning when the country is told to stay at home, but the tubes are crammed full of people setting off to work on a building site.”