COMMENTARY ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

Construction safety:
The pandemic’s impact

Image: Aunging

The International Labour Organisation reported that every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease worldwide. Every 15 seconds, 153 workers have a work-related accident. On construction sites around the world, at least 60,000 fatal accidents occur each year, representing one fatal accident every 10 minutes. The question is, what’s the current state in Asia? And has the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situations?

MALAYSIA
In February, a loader machinery was passing through the Lingkaran Highway Tengah 2 (MRR2), Malaysia, heading to Ulu Kelang when it crashed into a steel frame holding up the crosshead platform. Upon impact, several structure steel frames fell and crashed into a van carrying five local citizens who were heading to Sungai Besi. Two passengers died at the scene.

The Malaysian Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) stated that they will not compromise with construction project safety. In the case of negligence of duty, if convicted, a contractor may be fined up to RM500,000 or imprisonment of up to two years, or both.

Read: Safe@Work SOP to protect safety and health of workers and jumpstart the economy

Statistically speaking, occupational accidents in construction is lower than other sectors. The rate also declined from 326 in 2019 to 222 in 2020, mostly due to the movement control order (MCO). However, the death rate resulting from occupational accidents is the highest in construction. With 53 deaths in 2020, the probability is 1 in every 4 accidents. In the resumption of projects in 1Q 2021, this risk seems to be higher, as indicated by the fatalities on sites like Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang elevated highway construction project (SUKE).

Read: Contractors can be blacklisted if not adhering to SOPs to ensure workers’ and public’s safety

International policy and research development division, as cited from DOSH Malaysia

International policy and research development division, as cited from DOSH Malaysia

SINGAPORE
In Singapore, the Tuas explosion killed three and injured seven other workers on 11 February 2021. The Ministry of Works (MOM) convened an inquiry committee to look into the causes and circumstances that led to the accident.

The Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council also announced that there were seven fatal workplace accidents occurring in February alone. Three cases were from the construction sector. Of the seven, three workers fell from height, three were caught between objects and one was involved in a work-related traffic accident.

Preliminary investigations revealed that safety and health hazards were not observed. The risk assessments conducted at the workplaces were inadequate and proper work methods were also not established before work commencement.

Read: Greater vigilance needed with workplace injury rate returning to pre-COVID levels

The total number of workplace injuries in Singapore in 2020 fell by 18 per cent, with fatalities reduced from 39 in 2019 to 30 in 2020. Likewise, the fewer injuries were mostly probably due to the suspension of workplace activities in 2Q and 3Q of 2020 to manage the COVID-19 outbreak.

Read: Inquiry committee into the explosion at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 begins work

However, the number of workplace injuries reverted to pre-COVID levels by the 4Q of 2020, with 3,413 workplace injuries reported compared to 3,445 in the same quarter in 2019. The escalating injury rate in late 2020 and accidents in February 2021 are worrying. WSH speculated that companies could be rushing to catch up on project delays following work stoppages.

HONG KONG, VIETNAM & INDONESIA
Reported in South China Morning Post, in late January, a cleaner was found dead, hours after he had plunged 35 floors down a rubbish chute in a Tuen Mun public housing block. Over the past 11 years, five cleaners fell into rubbish chutes in Hong Kong, three of whom did not survive their injuries. The recurrent fatality shows just how dire the situation is for such maintenance workers. In the construction sector, the rate of accidents is the second highest after all services combined.

Similar to Singapore and Malaysia, the accident rates declined in 2020 and this, too, seems to be a result of the temporary closure during the pandemic outbreak.

OSH Statistics in Hong Kong in 2019 and 2020

 

In Vietnam, the 2020 OSH statistics remain to be seen, but past data show that construction also takes up a fair share of cases. In 2018 for example, fatality reaches 16 per cent of the total accidents reported.

According to ILO, in 2006, Vietnam developed the National Programme on Labour Protection, Occupational Safety and Occupational Health up to 2010, marking a significant milestone for the country’s OSH. In 2014, the government has made a firm commitment to establish national policies aiming at preventing occupational accidents and diseases in the workplace. However, reports show that the annual incidence rate of work-related injuries is still high.

The construction sector saw the highest number of deaths due to workplace accidents in 2018. It accounted for 15.6 percent of 622 deaths. Manufacturing for construction, such as steel and cement, and textiles were second with 10.7 percent of fatalities, followed by mining with 10.6 per cent.

Source: Statista

In Indonesia, the Minister of Manpower, Ida Fauziyah, stated that, based on the data from the National Occupational Health Insurance (BPJS), work accidents in construction have increased, from 114,000 in 2019 to 177,000 accidents in 2020. However, it has to be noted that this is based on the number of claims submitted to BPJS, which means that the actual number is much higher because not all workers have become BPJS members.

CONCLUSION
Occupational accidents can lead to significant losses for individuals, communities and organisations. Safety standards vary in different Asian countries, but the construction industry remains the biggest contributor of cases and fatalities. The project stoppages, shortage of workforce, disrupted supply chain and other challenges during the pandemic in 2020 may have increased the risk of incident and fatality.

Read: Creating a zero-injury culture

Commenting on the rate of accidents in Singapore in 1Q of 2021, Silas Sng, Commissioner for WSH in Singapore, said, “The commitment of a company’s leadership is key to preventing accidents. They should not wait for inspectors to pick up lapses, but should instead proactively take steps to assess the risk of their operations and implement adequate control measures to prevent accidents from occurring.” – Construction+ Online