Construction and engineering contractor groups have raised concerns regarding a shortage of dust masks available to construction workers, leading Unite to warn employees against working without adequate protection.
Trade union Unite has warned workers in the construction sector against working without access to adequate protection amid a shortage of dust masks.
The shortage is understood to be a result of the significantly increased demand for face masks and other forms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The sourcing of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) has become a challenge for many UK firms that require face masks for work purposes. A joint survey by trade bodies has found that 15% of contractors said they were finding it “impossible” to obtain the regulatory standard FFP3 dust masks, while 36% said finding dust masks was “highly challenging”. 44% of survey respondents also said they were having “sustained difficulty” in sourcing FFP2 masks.
The survey, which was carried out by trade bodies the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), SELECT (the Scottish trade association for the electrical, electronics and communications systems industry), SNIPEF (the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation), the Lift and Escalator Industry Association (LEIA), and the Construction Industry Coronavirus Forum (CICV Forum), also found that 44% of businesses had found that the price of dust masks has at least doubled in the past few months as demand has increased.
ECA director of CSR Paul Reeve said: “The inflated cost of RPE is clearly a problem but it’s overshadowed by the difficulties being encountered across our sector, to businesses who want to provide protection, but also reassurance, to their employees regarding coronavirus, as well as the other more established respiratory hazards.”
BESA’s health and safety adviser Rebecca Crosland said: “RPE and PPE are vital for our sector to operate safely, not only to protect workers from Covid-19, but from regular hazards such as inhaling dust, silica, and other poisonous chemicals.
“The supply of compliant RPE/PPE must be urgently addressed to maintain productivity and the health and safety of workers.”
The results of the survey has prompted Unite the Union to urge construction workers to prioritise their health and not to feel pressurised to work if the correct safety equipment is not available.
Jerry Swain, national officer at union Unite, said: “If PPE is required and the correct masks are not available then work has to be delayed until they can be sourced. Workers must not feel pressurised into taking shortcuts with their safety.
“If a worker is at all uncertain about whether they require PPE they must request to see an appropriate risk assessment. If they still believe it is unsafe, an employee legally has a right to remove themselves from a dangerous situation.
“It is all too easy to forget because of the pandemic that there are many reasons why an appropriate mask may be required while undertaking construction work other than preventing the spread of Covid-19.
“Even when you are socially distancing you may still need to wear a mask because of the dangerous nature of the work being undertaken.”