Coronavirus and Construction Sites

Should construction sites be closed down because of the Coronavirus?

The pressure seems to be growing for the government to take action and protect construction workers from contracting the deadly Coronavirus. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has rapidly and drastically changed the way people live all over the world. In Australia, construction workers are still working on busy building sites even though the government enforced a lockdown and social distancing with hard penalties for non-compliance. There are only a couple of construction sites that have closed down on their own accord to prevent the spread of the virus. Not a single safety course or first aid training facility could have ever prepared construction workers for the outbreak of COVID-19.

It seems that the Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has stated that construction work can continue as it can be done safely out in the open air. Some people have become angry saying this is not true by showing pictures of construction workers walking around crowded worksites and travelling together on crammed tube trains.

The rival unions, politicians and workers themselves say that construction work is non-essential and it is putting people’s lives at risk by keeping sites open. The Crossrail site has been closed and only work that is required for operational safety reasons can continue. There are statements from construction workers that state plenty of sites remain open with only a few safety measures in place.

People are worried

Most places have shut down around the world and more are going to be shut down if the virus doesn’t come to an end. Still, it seems there is no closure in mind for construction work. It has already been stated by the government that there is no other way that workers can be protected from the virus except for not going to work at all. Sites have plenty of workers going in and out each day from all different fields. While there may be hand sanitiser stations, the workers are still using fingerprint scanners to sign in and off, which merely defeats the purpose.

Higher authorities have stated that there is really no concern for workers if the worksite has strict precautions in place like adding more hygiene facilities, enhanced levels of cleaning and social distancing measures. Many people still think it is safe to go to work and are expecting to remain able to go to work each day which presents a serious threat of spreading the virus. 

With the government stating that construction workers should still be going to work what choice do we have? It is very hard in construction work to remain 1.5 metres apart at all times. It seems that construction work is critical and needs to carry on, but is it really essential for now?

The stark choice

Union reps have now also become outspoken when they mention the risk that construction workers face. Gail Cartmail, the Unite Assistance Secretary, says that the public would be horrified to see crowded constructions canteens and work sites where their loved ones are fearing for their health and safety. No worker should have their life at risk while they go to work on-site and carry out noncritical work. With there being over a million self-employed construction workers working for larger companies and projects, they have the choice of working or being forced to walk off the job without their weekly wage. What comes next is unknown as some construction companies have already started to take action.

Many workers have heard of confined space training. The question that needs to be answered is, should there be similar training exercising when it comes to workers being in a confined space with limited protection equipment against the virus? There needs to be a focus on how to truly operate at a 1.5-metre distance while on the worksite.