Construction industry shut down

Just last week there was the news that the mezzanine floor of a hypermarket in Alor Gajah collapsed, resulting in deaths and injuries.  Now, we have been presented with further shocking news that 92.5% of construction sites in the country do not meet specifications set by the Department of Safety and Health.

 

Should Malaysia just stop constructing buildings?  This might be the only way to ensure that neither construction workers nor building inhabitants die or get injured as a result of irresponsible contractors doing all they can to cut costs, even if it means not complying with the specifications set by the Department of Safety and Health in terms of time taken to complete a project, materials used and safety of the work area.  After all, it does not seem like we can trust the ministry to be on top of the hazardous construction sites issue considering numerous construction site accidents had to happen first before they decided to take this issue seriously.  What’s more, even after a construction site has been found to be specification non-compliant, not all contractors are taken to court – most are given notices and compounds.  Does a petty compound weigh the same as a life or more?  Definitely not, but that seems to be the extent of the enforcement against errant contractors.  Hence, until contractors are held accountable for their actions and responsible for their construction sites and workers’ lives, perhaps the construction industry should just shut down.

 

 

Press release, 1 July 2015

Foreign workers are not expendable

The news about the mezzanine floor of a hypermarket under construction collapsing yesterday at Pulau Sebang, Alor Gajah, Malacca, is shocking to say the least.

Reports state that the mezzanine floor collapsed after the staging was removed. Fifteen foreign workers, turned victims, were said to have been inside the building at the time — 3 are dead, 6 injured and another 6 are still missing.

 

The fact that our State Fire and Rescue Department and other rescue personnel from various departments responded to the distress situation well, is beside the point. This incident should not have happened in the first place.

 

Why did the foreign workers remove the staging if the cement had not yet set? Who instructed them to remove the staging? Where was the safety officer for the construction site when this incident took place? Surely there are mandatory procedures that must be followed to ensure these things do not happen. It seems that construction site accidents are happening too often, as of late.

This year alone saw many incidents that resulted in the death of construction workers. Have the people responsible been charged for these deaths? The public is still in the dark about what action has been taken against those responsible, if any action has been taken at all. Something is clearly wrong in the construction industry.

CAP calls on the ministry to set up a special committee to look into all past and present construction site accidents and to make public the results of their investigations. Furthermore, those responsible should be charged under the Penal code if they were found to be negligent at the time of the accidents and their negligence resulted in the death of the construction workers as the Occupational Safety and Health Act spells out that the employer should provide safe working place to its employees.

 

Press statement, 24 July 2015

Breach of safety SOP at MRT project site causing fatal accident of 3 workers

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) is saddened by the fatal worksite accident that killed 3 Bangladeshi workers at the project site of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) as a result of a breach of safe work procedure as reported in the Star dated 20th August 2014 “Breach in work procedures”.

 CAP has time and again called for an immediate intervention by the Department of Safety and Health (DOSH) to prosecute the employers who neglect their statutory duty to ensure the safety of their employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 provides the legislative framework to promote, stimulate and encourage high standards of safety and health at work. Without any doubt, the DOSH is statutorily bound to ensure that the employers comply with the provisions in the OSHA particularly Section 15 of Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 which states that the employers have the duty to ensure, as far as practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of all its employees.

In this respect, Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid, Chief Executive Officer of MRT Corporation has issued a statement vide The Star dated 08th July 2014 that SOPs and regulations on safety have been introduced for all activities related to the MRT project, both on and away from the worksite. He had also affirmed that MRT Corp has made it a point to ensure enforcement of SOPs with sufficient supervision and checks on sites.

However, we have come to understand that there was no proper supervision at the worksite by the competent person at the time when the accident took place. We are concerned whether DOSH has done periodical checks at this project site and ensured that both the employer and employee have complied with the safety regulations.

Since fatalities resulting from the fall at the worksite are increasing, CAP calls upon DOSH and the relevant departments to immediately implement the standard for fall protection dealing with both human and equipment-related issues in protecting workers from fall hazards. For example, employers and employees need to do the following:
— Where protection is required, select fall protection systems appropriate for given situations.
— Use proper construction and installation of safety systems.
— Supervise employees properly.
— Use safe work procedures.
— Train workers in the proper selection, use, and maintenance of all protection systems.

Where the work to construct the parapet for the guide way is being carried out by the employees; for instance in the case of MRT Corp, employers are required to assess the workplace to determine if the walking/working surfaces on which employees are to work have the strength and structural integrity to safely support workers. Employees should not be permitted to work on those surfaces until it has been determined that the surfaces have the requisite strength and structural integrity to support the workers. Once employers have determined that the surface is safe for employees to work on, the employer must take remedial measures for the work operation if a fall hazard is present.

For example, if an employee is exposed to falling at the height of 38 metres, as reported in Sinar Harian dated 20th August 2014 in relation to the fatalities at MRT worksite, from an unprotected side or edge, the employer must select either a guardrail system, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system to protect the worker.

We are also curious as to whether there were any proper jacks to support excessive loads on the concrete structure while the parapet work for the guide way was being carried out by the employees. Jacks and vertical supports must be placed and positioned in such a manner that the loads do not exceed the rated capacity of the jacks.

CAP is also of the opinion that there should be a general requirement for the Standard Construction Loads and to make it mandatory that the Employers must not place construction loads; let it be human or construction equipments on a concrete structure or portion of a concrete structure unless the employer determines, based on information received from a person who is qualified in structural design, that the structure or portion of the structure is capable of supporting the intended loads. This requirement must be also determined by DOSH.

DOSH is duty bound to come out with the Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines on effective management of worker’s safety and health protection which is a decisive factor in reducing the extent and severity of work related fatalities and injuries.

These guidelines should comprise of four general elements that are critical to the development of a successful safety and health management program:
— management commitment and employee involvement,
— worksite analysis,
— hazard prevention and control, and
— safety and health training.

Based on the media reports, the CEO of MRT Corp has tendered his immediate resignation and assured that the full investigation would be carried out to know the exact cause for the fatalities.

CAP is of the stand that the CEO should also be prosecuted by the DOSH for the breach of Section 15 of Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 and failure to ensure the worksite is safe for its employees. This form of stern action would definitely be deterrent revelation to other irresponsible employers who disregard the safety aspect of its employees.

Press Statement, 21 August 2014

Terengganu stadium collapse: disregard for worker safety reaches atrocious levels

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Less than four years ago, 60 percent of the RM292 million ringgit Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium’s roof collapsed with damages between RM15 million to RM25 million. Fortunately, there were no casualties.

Now, catastrophe has struck the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium again. This time with five workers injured, two critically. The Consumers' Association of Penang is appalled at the apparent lack of regard for safety by contractor and officials involved.

Terengganu state Infrastructure Development and Public Amenities Committee Chairperson Za’abar Mohd Adib.has been quoted as saying, “We did an integrity study before the roof repairs but the contractor failed to propose an accurate work method to repair the roof.”

He also said that based on initial investigations, the collapse was believed to be due to a weakness in the main roof structure after the removal of the middle framework.

In view of the direct danger to the workers who have become casualties of this careless oversight, we question how the workers were allowed to commence with the repair work when a proposal for an ‘accurate work method’ had yet to be approved.

Was there no progress report on the work by the contractor being monitored by consultants and engineers from the local authorities? What was the nature of the monitoring process and what were its findings? Was worker safety prioritised in the monitoring process by the professionals and authorities?

We also question how the removal of the middle framework which caused the roof structure to weaken prior to the repair work, was approved and by whom. Such a critical decision can only be made by qualified professionals after much deliberation over safety concerns.

Za’abar Mohd Adib also said that, “The contractor of the RM 1.7 million repair project will bear the losses incurred in the incident.”

The callousness displayed towards public and worker safety in this country has reached atrocious levels with every new disaster. And yet, there are hardly any changes in the attitudes of contractors, consultants and governmental officials towards public safety.

It is not enough that the contractor will bear the losses incurred. What is far more important is to ascertain who will take responsibility for the accident and for the workers who have been injured and the welfare of their families.

In 2009, S Subramaniam, the Human Resources Minister, had pledged to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 1994 to “ensure that the professionals will be more responsible and liable when it comes to safety requirements. Therefore, once the Act is amended, the professionals are accountable for the monitoring the process. So if anything goes wrong immediately the law will allow us to take action,’’ he said.

CAP called for the Amendment to the Act to be expedited in the interest of worker and public safety. We also called for the details of the findings of the investigation into the first near-tragedy and also this latest catastrophe to be made public via an independent commission of inquiry.

According to a Socso report, there were 34,376 industrial accidents in 2009 alone. The number of fatalities reported was 1,231. Knowing very well the standards of safety practiced by employers and authorities in the country, how many ‘professionals’ were held accountable and liable for these accidents and deaths?

Regardless of whether the Act has been amended, it is imperative that the contractor, engineers, consultants and the local authorities involved are held accountable and responsible for the avoidable accident which could have resulted in deaths.

Only with responsibility and accountability will worker safety improve in Malaysia.

This must be enforced by the Human Resources Ministry without delay.

Letter to the Editor – 23 February 2013

Asbestos: The deadly, silent killer

In recent weeks, concerns over asbestos poisoning have been raised in our local print media. And rightly so! This naturally occurring fibrous mineral, with fire and heat resistant properties, has been recognised as a serious threat to life in the Western countries and where possible, its use is avoided.

People who work with asbestos are at serious risk of developing lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and fatal respiratory illnesses. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) conservatively estimates that 100,000 workers die each year from asbestos-related diseases. Thousands more perish from environmental exposures.

 
Asbestos fibres are exceptionally strong and commonly found in ceiling tiles, flooring, water pipes and vehicle brakes. Asbestos was once heralded as the greatest building material, but is today recognised as one of the biggest workplace killers.

Asbestos also includes chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite asbestos, anthophyllite asbestos, actinolite asbestos, and any of these materials that have been chemically treated and/or altered.

Asbestos only becomes a danger when it is disturbed, causing the fibres to become airborne. This is commonly referred to as friable asbestos, while intact asbestos is referred to as non-friable asbestos.

Airborne friable asbestos is sucked into the lungs of people exposed to it. Until today, research has yet to determine a safe level of exposure to asbestos, but one thing is for certain – the more prolonged the exposure, the greater the risk becomes for developing an asbestos-related disease. This is why asbestos poisoning is often called an occupational hazard disease, because the people who commonly work with the material are most at risk for developing an asbestos-related disease.

Health officials have warned that widespread asbestos exposure will result in epidemics of mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Besides these debilitating fatal diseases, a panel of 27 experts convened by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported new evidence that asbestos causes cancer of the larynx and the ovary.

Of concern is a forecast by Dr James Leigh, retired director of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, Sydney School of Public Health, Australia, that there will be 5 to 10 million deaths from asbestos-related cancers by 2030.

It is also alarming that international health agencies such as the WHO, ILO and IARC agree that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Despite this, asbestos roofing materials, asbestos cement pipes and other asbestos-containing products are still being widely used worldwide, including in Malaysia.

What is of great concern to consumers is that there does not seem to be any concern for their health in being supplied with water through asbestos cement pipes. Malaysia does not have any programme to specifically replace asbestos cement pipes. Even if there is little evidence of the carcinogenicity of ingested asbestos, precaution must be taken by replacing old asbestos-cement pipes with safer substitutes.

Acknowledging the dangers of asbestos, 54 countries worldwide have imposed bans, restrictions or exemptions for minor uses of asbestos. In Malaysia, only crocidolite (blue asbestos) has been prohibited, but the use of chrysotile (white asbestos), amosite (brown asbestos), tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite are allowed.

In view of the importance of safeguarding the health of the public and workers handling asbestos, CAP has been calling for a complete ban on the material. We understand that the Malaysian government is in the midst of studying the implementation of a ban, but our concern is that this process is taking too long.  

Besides imposing a ban on asbestos, the Malaysian government must make available a national registry for asbestosis and mesothelioma, early diagnosis of asbestos-related diseases and implement a workers’ compensation scheme.

The government must also embark on an asbestos awareness and education programme to impart the message to the public, contractors, mechanics, plumbers and workers in general about the hazards of asbestos and to encourage compliance with regulations and safe asbestos management practices. We also need knowledgeable and skilled labour for safe removal and disposal of asbestos-containing products.

CAP reiterates our call to the government to expedite an outright ban on asbestos and ensure that the necessary measures are taken to safeguard the health of all Malaysians.

Letter to the Editor – 9 October 2010