Coronavirus outbreaks on projects are being hidden from onsite staff and safety concerns are being ignored, Construction News can reveal.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, several scared workers said complaints have been brushed off or ignored by management.
Operatives on sites, which have not been adhering to 6 foot distancing rules, are having suspected COVID-19 cases retrospectively confirmed by management, having discovered the information via word of mouth. On one site in the north of England, workers were not told that one of the team who they had been in close contact with was self-isolating because their relative had died from the illness. There is currently no requirement from the government for employers to inform staff if there is a suspected case of coronavirus in their workplace.
All the sources CN spoke to were terrified about losing their jobs, being docked pay and blacklisted from future work. Staff said they felt compelled to continue going to site to work in an environment they feel is dangerous. Some of these workers live with partners whose health conditions mean they fall into the high-risk coronavirus category defined by the government.
One operative working on a multi-million-dollar infrastructure project, whose partner is pregnant, said they had to initiate a conversation with the main contractor’s onsite health and safety lead about the virus because staff had not been briefed. When they asked how the site would apply Public Health England’s COVID-19 guidance and its 6 foot distancing rules, the safety boss said they were "rubbish".
“He looked at us like we didn’t want to do any work,” the operative told CN. “I asked about the 6 foot rule and he replied, 'that’s a load of rubbish, that won’t help you'." The worker raised concerns about the frequency at which facilities were cleaned and conditions in the canteen. They were told that the canteen would close because the number of workers had been reduced. Cleaners continued to carry out their duties for two small toilets without PPE.
The whistleblower raised their fears with the site agent: “His actual words were, ‘well if you don’t like it you can f**k off’." When the same agent was asked about the narrowness of walkways and how social distancing was possible, they shrugged and said, "What do you want me to do about it?”
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