Bring focus on building safely

Feb 16 2013, 09:28 IST
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SummaryRegulations for construction safety need to be implemented in letter and spirit

It’s a sight that’s familiar across any city. Construction workers in tattered clothes carrying pans of cement or other construction material on their heads, which are protected by nothing more than a rolled up piece of cloth. Or masons working on a rickety wooden scaffolding, with a cloth or cap on their heads if they are lucky.

The problem is not that there are no safety regulations in place. The issue is that they are ignored than followed, either willingly, or out of ignorance.

The situation today

Risks associated with the construction industry include injuries from falls, from falling or moving objects, transportation related risks, exposure to hazardous materials and electrical risks. The construction industry has the highest ratio of injuries and fatalities when compared to other industries like manufacturing. The reasons for this are many, starting with the nature of working conditions, to the lack of safety training, and non-observance of health, safety, security and environment (HSSE) regulations.

The ones closest to the ground reality and charged with supervising the safety on site are the vendors and contractors. However, a fatal combination of lack of competency and lack of commitment to making things better are work against the enforcement of HSSE regulations. Contractors and vendors are also hesitant to invest in safety equipment due to cost reasons.

An oft-ignored area is in the storage of materials. HSSE norms like ventilation requirements in the case of volatile compounds, or stacking height of cement bags etc. are observed more in the breach than compliance. A lack of co-ordination and team effort between the management, engineers, supervisors and workers puts stumbling blocks in the way of a planned and seamless adoption of HSSE systems. By integrating HSSE demands right from the design stage all the way through to planning and construction, compliance can be a smoother process.

Coming to the workers, construction projects are temporary in nature and workers are engaged only for the duration of the project. Also, a large part of the labour force are agricultural labourers who go back to the farms during the sowing or harvesting season. Therefore, contractors are unwilling to invest time, effort and money into safety training or inductions.

Building a safer future

The call for improved safety and a more stringent enforcement of HSSE norms in the construction industry has been rising steadily over time. A series of front-page making accidents on high-profile projects like

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