Taylor Wimpey has announced it will close all its sites “to help prevent the spread of Covid-19”, reports the BBC.
It said: “Our number one priority is the health and safety and wellbeing of our employees, subcontractors and customers and we are taking this action because we believe it is the right thing to do.”
The news comes as pressure builds on the government to act to protect construction workers against the coronavirus risk.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove told the BBC building work could continue if it can be done safely in the open air but photos of workers crammed into tube trains and on crowded building sites have angered many.
Rival politicians, unions and workers themselves all warn that the work is non-essential and putting people’s health at risk.
As well as the Taylor Wimpey closures, other projects, including the Crossrail scheme, have been suspended “unless they need to continue for operational safety reasons”.
But some construction workers have told the BBC other sites remain open with few safety measures to guard against coronavirus in place.
Housebuilder Redrow – whose current building work includes developments in South Wales, Manchester and London – said on Tuesday that its sites “currently remain open with strict precautions in place including enhanced levels of cleaning, additional hygiene facilities and social distancing”, but other workers are not being given the same protections.
The BBC reports that one builder in Cambridge is currently working on a site in close proximity to 300 other workers.
“It has a small smoking area, fingerprint turnstiles and a canteen not capable of the social distancing standard,” the worker reported, asking to remain anonymous because of the worry of being sacked. “The fear of the economic impact is the only reason we carry on.”
Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said building sites “should close for the period of the efforts to combat this virus”, while London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, told the BBC: “The government is saying construction workers should go to work, I disagree.
“I’ve worked on a construction site. It’s very difficult to keep the two metre distance.”
He added that if construction is there for a safety reason “that’s critical and it should carry on. But a lot of construction isn’t critical or essential.”
Union leaders, too, have been outspoken about the risk that workers face.
Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “Photos of crowded construction canteens will horrify the general public and in particular the loved ones of construction workers who fear for their safety.
“No worker should be put at risk by travelling to work, while on site, in any welfare area or undertaking any non-critical designated work.
“However, with well over a million construction workers being officially registered as self-employed, they have a stark choice of working or they and their families facing hunger.”