Unite calls for change to site-safety guidance on masks

The construction union Unite is saying that it will not support the latest version of the Construction Leadership Council’s site operating procedures (SOP) – Version 5, unless major safety failings and potentially illegalities are addressed.

Unite 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.

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.

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, they have all informed the union that they 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 (HSE) and the government has been circulated reminding companies of their legal requirements.

Jerry Swain, Unite’s national officer for construction 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.”
 
Jerry continued: “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.”