Contractors more worried about safety than project penalties, says BESA

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Contractors are more concerned about the safety of their workers than being sued over project delays during the COVID-19 crisis, says the BESA

Contractors should not feel pressurised into carrying out work during the COVID-19 crisis if it cannot be done safely, the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) said.

The association 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.

M&E safety on-site

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The two bodies are inviting feedback from the industry on the draft guidance that covers essential maintenance work, ventilation and other critical building services.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.

‘Site managers must take control’

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.

Crosland said: “This is not about legislation or rules – this is about people.

“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 Crosland.

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

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