The Wokingham Paper

Balfour Beatty construction workers are 'treated like they're dispensable' says Wokingham resident

The council says abuse towards construction workers will not be tolerated, and will be followed-up. Picture: Michael Gaida via Pixabay.

LABOURERS working on construction projects are being treated like they’re dispensable, claimed a concerned resident.

Jean Andrews, whose family member works on one of the Balfour Beatty highways projects in Wokingham, is worried about the safety and welfare of the construction workers. 

“They’re all concerned on the site,” she said. “They raised it to their managers, but they said that until the Government shuts down the site, they have to carry on working.

“They all have to work closely together, they can’t not. It defeats the object of social distancing.”

Ms Andrews and her family are also caring for a vulnerable elderly relative, who they are visiting regularly and dropping off food packages for.

“We’re all social distancing at home, but on site they can’t.

“It seems like these people are dispensable. They’ve been told just to get on with it.” 

But Balfour Beatty and Wokingham Borough Council said they are taking a range of measures to protect staff on site.

In a joint statement, they said: “Residents and local businesses will have noticed that work has continued so far to deliver our highway projects at Arborfield Cross Relief Road, Barkham Bridge Replacement, Eastern Gateway (Montague Park) and North Wokingham Distributor Road — sites on Reading Road and Old Forest Road. 

“In line with the current guidance on COVID-19 from the UK Government, our contractor Balfour Beatty’s sites and contracts will remain operational where they are able to appropriately implement the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued on March 24, 2020 by the Construction Leadership Council to ensure the continued health, safety and wellbeing of all those who work with and for them.

“Balfour Beatty has committed 65 full-time staff to these projects. We have been able to facilitate working from home for 31 of those employees; the remainder have been retained in site locations to oversee the safety and efficiency of the ongoing construction works. 

“We have remained committed throughout to our obligations to minimise the spread of Coronavirus.”

They said they have taken the following measures at the sites: 

  • Enhanced cleaning regimes
  • Full availability of soap and sanitisers
  • Staggering shift and break times to enable individuals to maintain 2m distance when using changing rooms and messing facilities
  • Promoting the use of individual cars to get to work rather than public transport or shared minibuses
  • Assessment of all construction activities, suspension of those where prolonged close proximity is inevitable (eg kerb laying) and continuing those where individuals can remain isolated (eg earthworks undertaken by plant with self-contained cabs)
  • Prohibition of visits by non-essential external personnel and minimisation of visits by managers from other sites
  • Development of methods of endorsing paperwork like delivery notes without sharing paper and pens

The added: “We are continuing to assess the situation hour by hour and will adapt our approach as required, in line with advice from the Government, for the safety of us all.

“It has been noted that a number of our operatives have been the subject of verbal abuse from the general public. 

“Wokingham Borough Council takes very seriously the personal security of those employed by us and by our contractors; a number of these personnel wear bodycams and we will not hesitate to follow through any instances of abuse.”

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