Thursday, April 23, 2020

Employers more worried about safety than penalties

Building services employers are more worried about keeping their workers safe than being sued over project delays, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

Contractors should not feel pressurised into carrying out work during the COVID-19 crisis if it cannot be done safely, the Association said. It pointed out that site operating procedures are guidance and not law so employers are perfectly within their rights to withdraw their staff if they do not feel they are being properly protected.

Many firms in construction-related fields are struggling to access supplies of respiratory protective equipment (RPE), which is hampering efforts to improve worker safety on sites. An online poll conducted by BESA found that more than 50% of respondents were struggling to source tight fitting RPE masks with 41% saying it was a “major difficulty” because they could not get access to any at all.

BESA has formed a joint COVID-19 Health and Safety Expert Panel with the electro-technical body ECA to produce guidance aimed at ensuring all m&e professionals can work safely on site during the current emergency and in the aftermath when it is expected social distancing restrictions will remain in place.

The two bodies are inviting feedback from the industry on the draft guidance that covers essential maintenance work, ventilation and other critical building services. It is also being refined to provide advice for the specific conditions contractors may encounter on high risk sites such as healthcare premises.

Delayed

BESA’s head of health & safety Rebecca Crosland urged contractors to consider whether the work they are being asked to do is absolutely essential or whether it could be carried out differently or delayed until conditions are safer.

“This is not about legislation or rules – this is about people,” she told the Association’s latest COVID-19 daily update webinar. “Employers are not worried about legislation or being sued by clients. They are most concerned about keeping their people safe and will not allow them to put their lives at risk – especially if the work is not essential.”

Some work may be critical to ensure an essential building can continue operating and if that work can only be completed in close proximity to others then workers must have adequate protection, added Ms Crosland.

“Site managers must take control,” she said. “They must step up and take responsibility to make sure their sites are safe.”

She added there should be no ethical dilemma about whether construction workers deserve to use RPE and PPE. “People are people, at the end of the day – and if someone is carrying out m&e work to provide or maintain essential services they deserve to be protected,” said Ms Crosland.

You can view the draft guidance here and to provide feedback send an email to: COVID-19@TheBesa.com by Monday 27 April

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