"It is difficult to understand": Aonyx MD reacts to minister's letter
Secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, recently wrote an official letter paying tribute to construction sector workers as they continue to go about their duties through the UK's Covid-19 lock-down. In conversation with The Parliamentary Review, Richard Reid, the managing director of Watford-based smart home installation firm Aonyx, discusses his reaction to the letter and his displeasure with its contents.
"First and foremost", Reid began, "I would like to say that the letter I have received from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is totally contrary to what the government has been saying since the start of the Covid-19 crisis."
Sharma's letter reads: "The government has advised that wherever possible, people should work at home. However, we know that for many people working in construction their job requires them to travel to their place of work, and they can continue to do so. This is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s advice."
In response to this, Reid said: "I find this approach very difficult to understand. The government wants people to remain at home, but if you're working within the building industry, apparently that does not apply."
Sharma's letter continues: "To help ensure that it is safe for you to operate in your workplace, the industry has worked to develop Site Operating Procedures [SOP], which were published by the Construction Leadership Council. These align with the latest guidance from Public Health England. As this health guidance updates, the SOP will reflect any changes. I am in regular contact with industry leaders about the developing situation that faces the sector."
However, Reid believes the idea that it is safe for construction workers to operate in their place of work is entirely false.
"It is not safe to operate in the workplace. There is no way that a builder can guarantee adherence to the two metre social distancing rules either travelling to work, working on-site, or travelling home. Furthermore, they cannot guarantee that surfaces are clean and free of the virus at any time.
"As a business, we are now being forced to return to certain sites, with the threat of penalties if we refuse to comply. This is quite frankly appalling."
Reid notably felt that it was not only unsafe for construction workers to continue operating, but it was also increasing the risk of spreading the virus more widely.
He explained: "The government stated in a recent coronavirus briefing that approximately 159,000 have been tested and approximately 30,000 have Covid-19, this is roughly one in five people.
"If we take a full train carriage for example, it holds approximately 200 people. According to the figures stated, therefore, 40 of those 200 individuals are likely to have the virus.
"The virus has an R-0 [basic reproduction number] of three to five, meaning someone with the virus infects between three and five people. On this basis, one train carriage alone can infect tens of thousands of people. How is this approach 'protecting the NHS' and supposedly 'saving lives'?"
Reid went on to reveal that ten Aonyx employees are currently in self-isolation, all of whom use public transport and operate on building sites.
"These ten employees are all displaying either some or all of the Covid-19 symptoms", Reid said.
"All of these employees work on building sites and travel into them by train. They alone, had they not self-isolated, could have infected thousands of people under current regulations.
"I am alarmed by the contents of this letter and furthermore by the lack of consideration for the safety of construction sector workers. They are not immune to this virus just because of the nature and importance of work that they do".