Construction industry leaders have called upon the government to end self-isolation requirements as thousands of site workers are being wrongfully told to self isolate by the NHS app, in an issue being dubbed the ‘pingdemic’.
Trading bodies including the CLC, the NBF, and the CBI, have lobbied the government to consider bringing forward the date at which double-jabbed workers no longer have to self-isolate, as the workforce dwindles at the hands of unnecessary technical errors. The current cut-off date is August 16th, but industry leaders argue that an earlier date is essential if the industry is to get back on its feet.
It goes without saying that the industry has been significantly affected by this. While Covid cases are indeed rising in number, and workers are having to legitimately self-isolate after having caught the illness itself, there are many others who are being incorrectly informed of their coming into contact with positive cases by the NHS app, and are having to needlessly remove themselves from their places of work.
This is causing great disruption to construction sites up and down the country, and some are even being forced to close resulting from a lack of available onsite workers. Richard Beresford, the chief executive of the National Federation of Builders, has commented on the extent to which sites have been impacted:
‘Every member we have spoken to has Covid-negative staff isolating. Some have had to shut sites due to a site manager’s or other key staff being pinged and no replacements available’.
He warns that the very survival of some sites is at stake – a couple of weeks of closure could have severe repercussions in the current climate, and after a year of similar disruptions, there is a degree of vulnerability which could leave construction firms in danger of permanent closure.
Andy Mitchell, the co-chair of the CLC, also describes the heightened challenges faced by the recent difficulties, saying that ‘very significant pressure’ has been placed upon the construction sector as a result. He has heard ‘reports from across the industry of plants, sites and offices having to wind down activities as staff have been asked isolate’, factors which again could threaten ‘project delivery and even the viability of some firms’. It is ‘essential’, he warns, for the date to be brought forward from August 16th, to ensure ‘that the industry doesn’t grind to a halt’.
There are other benefits to bringing the date forward, according to CLC. They argue that a nearer date would actually increase the number of people who are fully vaccinated across the population, as more people would want to reap the benefits of immunity and ensure that they are immune from the need to self-isolate. It would bring an overall advantage to both the workforce and the wider population.
This development has arisen during the height of growing concerns about shortage in material supplies, which have been ongoing since the beginning of 2021. High demand, inflation and long lead times have led to a backlog in even the most fundamental of supplies, such as concrete and timber, and prices of materials have risen by 10-15% in the last year.
Even industry giants such as Morgan Sindall have borne the brunt of the hardship, and recently commented on the current shortages and isolation issues faced by the industry. But chief-executive John Morgan remains optimistic. ‘It’s there, but it’s manageable. I believe the shortages aren’t as much as they were a few weeks ago. We’ve had it worse in the past’. Although the company ‘are feeling’ the strain of the recent weeks, they expect the situation to improve in the month ahead when the number of fully vaccinated workers will have risen.
The construction industry has powered through admirably during the last year of lockdowns, obstacles, and disruptions of all kinds, to ensure that crucial work is able to continue. And no doubt it will power through again. Morgan Sindall themselves are a reflection of the surprising successes awarded to the construction industry in the face of such a challenging year; their half-year trading update predicts that they will ‘significantly’ surpass their 2019 results. Triumphs can be found in the most unexpected of places.
Another month to get through, another challenge to face. But industry leaders are forever inspired and hopeful that the sector will carry us through. There’s only one thing we can keep doing, and that’s inviting new workers into the field, helping them become qualified, and giving them the opportunity to jump on board. And that person could be you.
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