Union calls for tighter face mask rules

The Unite union is pressing for the official Covid-19 site operating procedures to be revised to make masks mandatory for construction workers operating indoors.

The Unite union is pressing for the official Covid-19 site operating procedures to be revised to make masks mandatory for construction workers operating indoors.

Unite says that the site operating procedures are inadequate as they appear to assume that construction work only takes place outside; it wants separate rules for working indoors, where the virus is likely to be easier to catch.

However, the site operating procedures already require construction workers to wear face masks when working in an enclosed space or where social distancing cannot be maintained.

It is not clear what addition rules Unite is seeking, beyond perhaps better policing of construction workers who are flouting the guidance.

As far as the union is concerned, any failure to wear masks must be blamed on the bosses – and the government.

Jerry Swain, Unite national officer for construction, said:  "Since the beginning of the pandemic, Unite has warned that construction workers were at considerable risk. Huge swathes of the industry operate through bogus self-employment or agency labour where workers have no employment rights and engagements are short. In these circumstances and with unemployment growing, workers fear that if they raise concerns they will have their contracts terminated and will struggle to find new employment.”

He said: "This situation has been made worse by the inadequacy of the site operating procedures published by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).  The government feeds into this body so it must be aware of the failure to address the need for the compulsory wearing of masks where workers can’t work in a socially distanced manner.  Unite has demanded this repeatedly warning that it was central to getting transmission in the sector under control. 

“This failure is likely to have contributed to the high transmission rate and has seriously undermined the social distancing messages vital to the protection of workers.

"While larger sites, particularly where Unite has been actively involved, have been better in ensuring Covid safe working practices are enacted, such measures on smaller sites and in the domestic sector are either weak or non-existent.”

He concluded: “Unless the government and construction employers ensure that there are strict rules on mask wearing, that social distancing and cleaning regimes are being followed, and workers can afford to self-isolate, transmission rates will continue to climb.”

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