Nadhim Zahawi urges firms to follow social distancing guidelines – but builders say this is practically impossible

Construction minister Nadhim Zahawi has repeated the government mantra that sites should remain open despite many housebuilders and contractors concluding that hey have to close for safety reasons during the coronavirus outbreak.

In a tweet, Zahawi (pictured) said: "For sectors like #construction and #manufacturing, it's not always possible for employees to work from home.

"Construction work should continue in a way that follows guidance from @PHE_uk including on social distancing & handwashing."


The comment came as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) said that only emergency and critical construction work should be allowed to continue during the coronavirus outbreak, as implementing safe social distancing was "almost impossible". 

Zahawi came in for flak for his call on Twitter, with one user saying: "You’ve obviously never worked on a construction site. It’s impossible to work keeping 1m apart never mind two.

"Most trades require two men to lift or hold items in position while fixing etc. Herd immunity policy is killing people."

Nadhim Zahawi

Another said: "It is simply impossible for large construction sites to enforce social distancing. Please visit any of the major sites in London and you will see this is the case. Furthermore lots of sites are running low on basic hygiene supplies like hand gel."

On Tuesday Taylor Wimpey chief executive Pete Redfern said he had made a "moral" decision to close his sites, while London housing association L&Q said it had proved "extremely difficult" to introduce safe social distancing measures on sites.

Research carried out by the FMB found that 60% of its members, mostly small builders, have already stopped at least three-quarters of their work.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “It is almost impossible to follow Public Health England’s social distancing advice on many sites, and it would therefore be safer to close them.” 

He also said help should be extended to SME building firms and the self-employed in order to protect the health and livelihoods of the industry’s workforce.

The trade association, which represents small builders, found that 63% of builders believe that the government is not doing enough to support them.

The government is currently offering a £25,000 grant to those working in retail, leisure and hospitality firms while their workplaces are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Berry said: “No one should have to choose between feeding their family and protecting their health and yet that is the position many builders currently find themselves in.”