Keeping the UK building safely: PROTECT report examines sector’s COVID-19 response
8 September 2021
A report published today as part of the PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study on transmission and environment assesses the UK construction sector’s efforts to build ‘COVID-secure’ workplaces
Evidence collected by the report’s authors at the Thomas Ashton Institute will be used to support efforts to keep the UK building safely as the economy unlocks.
Using survey and interview data from four principal construction contractors, the Keeping the UK Building Safely report highlights the practical challenges the sector has faced as construction workers played a key role in keeping the country running during the pandemic.
The report found that effective dialogue and a well-established safety culture has enabled the construction sector to respond quickly to the challenges of COVID-19, implementing modified working practices and control measures that have been largely successful in limiting transmission of the virus in the workplace.
However, the sector’s focus on workforce health and safety has sometimes conflicted with contractual and productivity pressures, with a mixed response from clients. Factors largely outside of employer’s control, such as the travel, socialising and living arrangements of the sector’s diverse workforce, have also made it harder to control transmission. This reinforces the message that transmission is a continuous societal risk from which the workplace cannot be entirely insulated.
The report also found that, over time, COVID-19 responses in some parts of the construction sector have become less effective, with a reduction in worker compliance with control measures. Moving forward, a continued commitment to safety and continued engagement with workers is essential to control and reduce transmission of the virus.
Professor Neil Bourne, Director of the Thomas Ashton Institute and co-author of the report, said: “Construction workers have played a vital role in keeping the country running throughout the pandemic, despite huge challenges at all levels. We found that front line staff were worried about not only their physical and mental health, but above all the economic impact of the pandemic on themselves and their families.”
“We are talking to sub-contractors in the industry now to better understand their perspectives and develop our recommendations. It was clear that the overriding pressure in the first phase of the pandemic was from work already committed to; as one director we interviewed told us, “COVID may have changed the world, but not the contract on this job!”
This project has been commissioned as part of the PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study on transmission and environment.