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NST Leader: No safety net

This Sept 19 picture shows a concrete slab crashing on a car near the construction of the Sungai Besi-Ulu Klang Elevated Expressway (SUKE) in Kuala Lumpur. -Pic courtesy of NST reader.

Malaysia's construction industry often gets a bad press. And deservedly so.

Consider Sunday's incident at the Middle Ring Road 2 in Bandar Tasik Selatan, Kuala Lumpur, where a parapet wall slab fell onto a moving car. Fortunately, the driver escaped with injuries.

Last year, a crane operator died at a construction site when the vehicle he was operating collapsed on him. The two accidents didn't just happen. They were caused. So were the others in the history of the Malaysian construction industry.

And somewhere in the cause, there lurks a human agency. Call it negligence, lack of enforcement, or even greed, but where there are unsafe materials or machines, errant men are not far behind.

This is no rocket science. Developers and contractors who are worth the money they are paid should know that safety should be their number one concern. In fact, Malaysian developers and contractors are famous for worksite boards that scream, "Safety is our number one priority". But their record over the years make them wooden lies.

Take accidents, just the fatal ones. According to Statista, a data portal, our construction industry has been a fatality-causing bad boy for long. In the five years beginning in 2014, the industry recorded 458 fatalities, with 111 of them in 2017 alone. In 2018, and that too in only 10 months, there were 84 deaths.

If negligence, lack of enforcement and greed are the causes, surely solutions are not hard to come by. Consider the last first.

Developers and contractors are in the construction business to make money. We accept this.

After all, this is the nature of any business. What is unacceptable is when they place profit before safety. This is no mere speculation. How else would you explain a crane, which is approved to be on the worksite, collapsing on the operator? Or the assigning of one worker to man the diversion at the Middle Ring Road 2? What became of risk assessment and risk control? What happened to the rule that worksites must be hazard-free?

Some in the construction industry are cutting corners to fatten their profits. The authorities must come down hard on errant developers and contractors. Revocation of licences must be one of them. The law must make it expensive for errant developers and contractors to be in business.

Now for negligence at construction sites. Data on accidents at construction sites may point to them being unsafe places. They needn't be if the workers are made aware of the hazards they may face through the employers' safety policy and procedures. This is the responsibility of the developers and contractors. They must not allow any worker to do a job or operate an equipment that he is not qualified to do or operate.

As for the workers, it is in their interest to review the safety policies before they embark on any job. But ultimately, it all comes down to enforcement. The rising fatalities year-on-year alone suggest our authorities have not been as stringent as they should have been.

Self-regulation by itself isn't enough. Errancy happens because the errant knows he can get away with it. Developers and contractors must be made to fear the law. They will so fear it if the regulators regulate, before and after the fact.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 gives the regulators wide powers. So do other statutes. They must use them.



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