As the country now enters its ninth week of lockdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister addressed the nation last week, telling us that ‘anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.’ Guidance has been published for employers on how they can encourage staff back to work in a safe manner. One particular document is specifically for ‘Construction and other outdoor work’ which sets out the safe working measures when returning to work on site.
Many sites across the country are reviewing their procedures to stay in line with the safe working rules, but many of their workers are worried as they rely on public transport to travel to work, and government guidelines warn against using public transport where possible.
This is all likely to cause conflict, as aside from public transport issues, social distancing of 2 metres can be difficult to maintain on a building site, particularly where certain jobs require more than 1 person. With PPE being in such short supply, this too is likely to be a bone of contention between employers and employees.
Employees have a legal right to raise concerns about their health and safety and can refuse to work if they feel that they are at imminent risk of harm, without fear of disciplinary action. This could, of course, present site managers with a huge challenge; the health and safety of the whole workforce has to be paramount. Those not prepared to take the risk of going back to work, and those who are not adhering to the social distancing rules whilst at work will surely be causing their employers more stress.
One thing is true though; in order for the economy to even begin to recover, all sectors of industry need to be working, whether it be in construction or manufacturing. And whether the current conditions employees are forced to work under will be the ‘new normal’ remains to be seen.
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