New Covid safety measures could increase cost of National Children’s Hospital by 40%

Construction industry suggests cost of house could rise by up to €15,000

Cost increases of such a scale could add hundreds of millions of euro to the current estimates for the new children’s hospital which currently are more than € 1.7 billion. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Cost increases of such a scale could add hundreds of millions of euro to the current estimates for the new children’s hospital which currently are more than € 1.7 billion. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The cost of building complex projects such as the National Children’s Hospital could increase by up to 40 per cent as a result of new safety measures being introduced on construction sites, the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 has been told.

Cost increases of such a scale could add hundreds of millions of euro to the current estimates for the new hospital which currently are more than € 1.7 billion.

The new estimates were set out by director general of the Construction Industry Federation Tom Parlon who also suggested that the new safety arrangements would add up to € 15,000 to the cost of building a house.

He warned that the cost of an apartment could rise by € 20,000 due to greater difficulties in achieving physical distancing.

Questioned by Duncan Smith of the Labour Party, Mr Parlon said the view in the industry was that the cost of complicated projects could rise by up to 40 per cent as a result of strict new safety measures which have been implemented to deal with the threat of Covid-19.

He said as a result of the requirements for greater social distancing, one large site which previously had 1,800 workers now only had 500 - 600.

Mr Parlon suggested that this was going to extend out the timetable for the completion of such large projects.

He said when issues such as the cost of having cranes on sites for a longer period were taken into account, the bill was going to increase.

Mr Parlon maintained that the Office of Government Procurement should take the lead and give guidance in relation to public construction projects which were underway. He suggested this could then feed into the private sector.

He said he would like to see a collaborative approach to avoid legal cases.

Mr Smith said the Government needed to publish revised cost estimates for the National Children’s Hospital.

He said cost rises of 40 per cent suggested by Mr Parlon would be “astronomical”.

“The Irish people have already contributed a significant amount into the National Children’s Hospital to the tune of €2 billion.”

“The Government procurement office needs to now publish revised estimated final costs for the National Children’s Hospital and make known how much they anticipate the cost of the project to rise by.”

Mr Parlon said across Europe it was estimated that safety measures could add 10 to 15 per cent to building costs.

He said where the timescale for building a house has traditionally been 15 weeks, with the new safety measures this could increase to 25 weeks.

There was “no big bang” return to work by construction firms who were being sensible and practical, the representative body for the industry has said.

He said it would take months for the sector to reach previous output levels.

Health and Safety Authority

General secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Patricia King said the Government must ensure that the monitoring of workplaces by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) was fully resourced in order to protect workers and prevent a further spread of the virus.

She said HSE inspectors had extensive powers of enforcement, including the power to serve a “prohibition notice” on any workplace, in which activity was occurring which posed a serious risk to the health and safety of any person.

“In our view this power should be exercised vigorously in respect to any workplace in which the terms of this protocol are not being observed,” she said.

“Given the very serious nature of this virus and the possible severe consequences for those who contract it, it is crucial that the implementation and enforcement powers are actively utilised.”

HSA chief executive Sharon McGuinness told the committee it had 67 inspectors assigned to monitor the operation of the back-to-work national safety protocol.

She said 80 inspections had been carried out on Monday, the first day on which Covid-19 restrictions were eased.

Ms McGuinness indicated that the HSA may not be able to carry out surprise inspections due to restrictions to protect against Covid-19. However she said this would not be the norm.

“As a general rule, authority inspections are unannounced. However, due to the fact that workplaces may have different working arrangements in place to protect against Covid-19, the authority may need in a number of cases to arrange a suitable time to visit.”

Ms King said she did not believe that 67 HSA inspectors was an adequate number and the Government needed to increase the resources available to the authority.

Ms McGuinness said she was confident that additional resources that were needed would be made available.