Construction and engineering contractor groups have raised concerns about a shortage of dust masks and inflated prices when they are available, which has prompted a union to warn employees against working without adequate protection.
Sourcing respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is becoming a challenge for many firms that need them for work purposes. Fifteen per cent of contractors said they were finding it “impossible” to obtain FFP3 dust masks, while 36% said they were finding sourcing them “highly challenging”. Almost half (44%) were having “sustained difficulty” in finding FFP2 masks, the survey concluded.
The survey, conducted 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 dust masks had at least doubled in price for 44% of organisations.
It is thought that the price inflation and shortage of equipment has been caused by booming demand for face coverings to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
“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,” said ECA director of CSR Paul Reeve.
BESA 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 dusts, 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.”
Jerry Swain, national officer at union Unite, warned employees not to risk their health if they were not supplied with the correct protective equipment.
He 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.”