Construction - helping the NHS be more effective in tackling Covid-19

The construction sector can be an important ally in the fight against coronavirus, but the government needs to provide concrete support for the industry to do the right thing, says Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker.

Just listening to the news and scanning social media this morning. the issue of construction sites staying open is a growing issue and the official industry guidance on sites staying open, provided workers can observe social distancing rules, looks very difficult to hold. 

Behind the scenes and in public view, there is a massive lobbying effort taking place on the government to provide support to the industry, especially to the self-employed, as otherwise we will continue to see scenes of packed tube trains in London and elsewhere that if they continue could cause real reputational damage to the industry. I know that industry representative bodies are pushing hard on this for greater government clarity and a positive announcement from the PM can’t come quick enough frankly.

We should also remember that our industry is doing some great things to assist the national effort against this virus. The Construction Leadership Council has circulated a request from NHS hospitals for supplies from industry organisations to support their fight against Covid-19. They desperately need FFP3 masks, full face visors (transparent and either disposable or reusable), safety goggles and glasses, hand sanitiser and haz mats and full body suits. 

If you or your company can source any of the above please contact any of the following trade associations - Association for Consultancy & Engineering, Build UK, Chartered Institute of Building, Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Construction Plant-hire Association, Construction Products Association, Electrical Contractors Association, Federation of Master Builders, National Federation of Builders, and Institution of Civil Engineers - who will liaise with those coordinating this work.

I think we are rapidly reaching the point where only essential critical infrastructure that needs to stay open from a safety point of view will remain open. The government needs to provide concrete support for the construction sector to do the right thing. And the industry does want to do the right thing.

The key concern of everyone should be protecting people and saving lives. Nothing is more important than that.  

Another key concern should be safeguarding the reputation of the industry and that is why the sector ought to be highlighting the stuff it is doing to help support the NHS and also talking specifically about the essential infrastructure work that is continuing to be done to help keep the nation safe and protected.

Routine site work is what the media is focusing on currently and that is wrong. Many companies are voting with their feet and it’s clear to me that most routine site work will cease by the end of the week, if it hasn’t already.

We also need to keep in mind that up to 70% of Londoners do not have access to a car so rely on bus/tube/rail services to get about. The government needs to make it absolutely clear who are considered essential workers to reduce pressure on the transport network. At the moment, it seems that construction sites are in the crossfire and that is unfair. The government needs to support the industry so we can all unite to fight this virus. 

Andy Walker is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence.

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