The leading construction union is stating that it will not support the latest version of the Construction Leadership Council’s site operating procedures (SOP) unless major safety failings and potentially illegalities are addressed.

Safety concerns

Unite, the UK’s construction union, has warned that advice relating to the use and supply of PPE when a two metre distance cannot be maintained, and the wrong and potentially illegal information regarding site deliveries, will fail workers.

The union is particularly concerned that face coverings, possibly homemade and not the safer face masks, are being suggested as appropriate and adequate protection for workers operating at close quarters to one another. 

PPE advice wrong

Version 5 of the recently published SOP states that when work has to be undertaken where workers are less than two metres apart, “workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against Coronavirus (COVID-19)."

According to Unite, this advice is a corruption of the basic ‘hierarchy of control’ process which should be used on all risk assessments. Where a risk cannot be eliminated by other means, then full and adequate PPE including face masks should be provided. Homemade face coverings are not PPE and the CLC must be clear on this in its advice to employers and workers.

No consistent advice

Furthermore, Unite understands that the CLC's latest advice is at odds with the major contractors who sit on the CLC who are demanding that full PPE is worn when workers are closer than two metres.

Following a survey by Unite, Balfour Beatty, Galliford Try, Mace and Interserve have all informed the union they all insist that PPE is worn if a risk assessment identifies that it is required.

In relation to covid-safe site deliveries, Unite is concerned that the latest SOP guidance is in breach of the instruction in place since November 2017, which states that all delivery drivers to commercial properties have the right to use the premises’ toilets and welfare facilities. 

Due to the high number of companies that have been failing to adhere to the law, a joint letter signed by the Health and Safety Executive and the government has been circulated reminding companies of their legal requirements.

Not safe

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “The latest construction site operating procedures are inadequate.  They undermine the use of the correct PPE and Unite cannot support them as they stand.

  “Like many of the major contractors, Unite’s advice to workers is that if you have to work within two metres, full appropriate PPE should be supplied. If it isn’t, work should not be undertaken. 

"Face coverings are not PPE and are not an effective alternative.

 "If any Unite member is threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to undertake such work because proper PPE is not supplied, they will be fully supported by their union.

“The information regarding site deliveries is well-meaning but wrong. Drivers have a legal right to use welfare facilities and they cannot be refused.

“If drivers are refused Unite will report them to the HSE and the offenders run the risk of having action taken against them.

“Unite is fully prepared to name and shame companies that deny drivers the right to use a toilet.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

 On driver welfare facilities the SOP state: “Where loading and off-loading arrangements on site will allow it, drivers should remain in their vehicles. Where drivers are required to exit their vehicle, they should wash or sanitise their hands before handling any materials and must have access to welfare facilities.”

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: barckley.sumner@unitetheunion.org

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.