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'You can't roof a house from home': Construction chiefs say they await HSE order to down tools

Right now, there are over 100,000 people still involved in construction across the island.

Image: RollingNews.ie

PRESSURE IS GROWING on the construction industry to down tools and clear sites for fear of workers being infected with Covid-19. 

Right now, there are over 100,000 people still involved in construction across the island. 

In the capital alone, there are certain sites where over 1,000 workers are employed. They have been instructed to continue coming in to work but to adhere to HSE guidelines. 

Workers at sites at the new National Children’s Hospital in Dublin 8, the huge development of the Grangegorman technical university site in Dublin 7, as well as the construction of Ireland’s tallest ever office building, The Exo, are all still working. 

There are around 4,000 workers between these three sites. 

Locals in Dublin 7 and Dublin 8 have contacted TheJournal.ie to say they are concerned about social distancing guidelines being being adhered to on the sites, saying they see workers packed into local shops to get their lunches. 

Similarly, one worker at a site in Dublin told this publication that staff have pleaded with their superiors to allow those who can work remotely to do so. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: “I can work for home for sure. They haven’t let any of us off at the minute. I have told them that I have kids with asthma and that my partner is also in an at-risk group but I’ve been told to keep coming in. 

“It’s a bit off-putting when I am coming home from work, not going out, doing everything the HSE is telling me to do but then I could be bringing [the virus] into my home when I get in and putting people at risk. I don’t think it’s fair at all.” 

Brendan O’Sullivan, general secretary of the Builders and Allied Trades Union (BATU) told TheJournal.ie that the thousands of members who he represents have been told to minimise their contact as much as is possible, but that it remains a challenge. 

He said: “The HSE has issued guidelines to employers on how to control close contact between staff. We are listening to them. A lot of sites have already introduced measures to help reduce how often people are in close contact with each other. 

“That’s been done by limiting the number of people in canteens or when people are on tea breaks. A lot of the guys have ended up eating their lunches in their cars. There are also a lot of sites which have replaced the stiles you have to go through to enter the site. Others have also replaced fingerprint signing in technology which means that all staff won’t touch the same device to sign in. We’re trying to minimise risks.”

While O’Sullivan acknowledged that a lot of those who can work from home ought to do so so long as it is accepted by their superiors, he warned that there are members of BATU who cannot make a living from working remotely. 

“Our members are craft workers, using timber and stone and bricks and blocks. You can’t put the roof of a house on when you’re at home. You can’t build a wall at home and then bring it in to work. It’s just not going to work. 

“We are waiting and watching the HSE to see if they change their advice to construction workers. As things stand, that has not happened.” 

The Construction Industry Federation has echoed O’Sullivan’s statements and says it stands ready to adapt if the HSE changes its guidelines. 

A statement issued to its members reads: “The Construction Industry Federation is constantly advising its members in relation to all HSE Guidelines and Chief Medical Officer recommendations pertaining to Covid-19. The federation has issued guidelines for actions to take now to provide for health and safety for management of construction sites and behaviours for construction site personnel.

“Industry is continuing to deliver on contractually agreed commitments for public and private sector clients while adhering to HSE and Chief Medical officer requirements/ recommendations.  The industry and its 147,000 employees are critical to both the economy and wider society as essential emergency works, housing, hospitals, roads, schools and other projects are delivered.”

The CIF said construction companies are doing all they can to keep their workers in employment in the safest possible environment. 

The statement added:

Many companies have now embedded social distancing into their daily routines including measures such as staggered work, social distancing in canteens, employees taking lunch individually. They now run induction talks on entry to work and hold regular ‘toolbox’ talks to constantly reinforce new safety guidelines. Building sites are complex workplaces and employers and employees are working together to addresses any issues of concern that arise.

“The CIF does not condone any behaviours that contradict the HSE’s guidelines. Any such behaviour should be reported to employers so the issue can be addressed.”

A number of contractors and development agencies were contacted for comment.  

A spokeswoman for the National Children’s Hospital said: “Construction work is continuing on the site of the new children’s hospital and the main contractor has informed the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board that HSE working practice protocols and guidelines regarding Covid-19 are being adhered to. The main contractor has responsibility for all health and safety matters on the construction site.”

Contractors

A spokesman for SISK said: 

“John Sisk & Son continues to closely monitor the rapidly evolving situation relating to the global spread of the Coronavirus, Covid-19. At all times, our primary concern is the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff, supply chain partners, clients and the wider community in which we operate.

“We will keep working as long as we can maintain the safety of our people with social distancing and the other measures we are taking to protect them. Many of our employees who can, are working from home and numbers have been reduced on sites and in offices and arrival times and breaks staggered to reduce numbers in canteens and common areas.

“We continue to follow the advice and direction of Government and public health authorities and will continue to modify our response daily in accordance with official guidance as the situation evolves. We thank all our staff and supply chain partners for their commitment at this challenging time.”

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