The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) views with concern the spate of construction site accidents involving construction and crane operations.
The many accidents in construction sites do not augur well for the construction industry as far as safety is concerned. The latest fatal incident, where a Bangladeshi worker died on the spot when the incomplete cement flooring beneath him gave way at the Tenaga Nasional Bhd substation, next to the Cochrane Mass Rapid Transit station in Kuala Lumpur, is another example where safety supervision and good occupational safety and health (OSH) practices are found wanting.
The time has come for those in the construction industry to reassess their position in safety at work and determine whether they have done enough to ensure safety for their workers in construction sites. Accidents and occupational injuries are preventable through the implementation of safety and health practices at the workplace.
Contractors must implement OSH practices, including adopting HIRARC, which is the concept of hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control. This will help workers and their supervisors to identify hazards and risks, and find ways to avoid them. Some contractors are not investing enough in safety and health at the workplace because of the cost factor.
However, when accidents occur, leading to either injuries or fatalities, such tragedies not only result in stop-work orders, but also bring pain and agony, especially to families of victims. Statistics from the Social Security Organisation indicate that 7,338 accidents were reported in the construction industry in 2016, compared with 4,330 cases in 2011, an increase of 69.47 per cent. Based on the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) records, 106 deaths were reported in the construction industry last year compared with 88 in 2015.
In the first seven months of last year, 40 deaths were reported. These statistics, especially those involving fatalities, are worrying as these were reported cases investigated by DOSH.
If we take into account unreported cases, the figures would be higher. Although the government enacts laws and enforces them, the responsibility for implementing a safety system in construction sites lies with main and sub contractors. Training and education are an integral part of OSH as they boost occupational safety and health in worksites.
OSHA 1994 states that training is mandatory and continuous effort must be taken to ensure the safety and health of workers at the workplace, including construction sites. Apart from offering training programmes, Niosh plays its role in improving safety and health in the construction industry by establishing a Centre of Excellence in Construction Safety. It also focuses on research and development and consultation by cooperating with universities and government agencies.
The activities include establishing cooperation with the Construction Industry Development Board in piloting behaviour-based safety programmes in construction sites, and establishing a fall protection equipment laboratory to examine fall prevention equipment for workers, since statistics show that falling incidents in construction sites are among the highest in Ma-laysia. Niosh is also establishing a simulation interactive lab for personal protective equipment (PPE) that will help to train construction workers on the importance of using proper and correct PPEs. It has also developed crane and scaffold safety inspection training modules to share knowledge and advice with those in the industry.
Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye
Chairman, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health