The latest incident of a steel fabrication firm’s work superviser falling to death from an under-construction highrise in the Old Salatha area has once again exposed the poor safety conditions prevailing in the construction sector, which is growing at a phenomenal pace in Qatar.
Inquiries by Gulf Times at some of the diplomatic missions in Qatar and among construction industry sources revealed that more than 50 “on-the-site” deaths of workers from India and Nepal were reported from construction sites across the country in the past three years.
The Indian embassy said 44 expatriate workers from that country were killed in accidents at construction sites in the past three years, mainly reportedly due to falls. The Nepal embassy, too, said there were 10 such deaths in the last two years involving workers from its community.
The Sri Lankan embassy was contacted for details, but no one was available to comment.
While a section of those engaged in the construction industry tried to blame workers for the accidents, some others - including experienced personnel directly or indirectly dealing with the country’s building sector - saw enough reasons to find fault with the companies at whose site such deaths occurred.
A senior official of a reputable firm supplying safety gadgets, among other essential personal protective equipment (PPE), to the industry said he has come across several safety managers who are more concerned about profit than the basic safety of the workers they employ.
He has even had to argue with some safety officers, who usually place orders for protective equipment, on a few occasions in recent times. “On paper, most construction firms have good safety practices. But in reality, only a handful of professionally-managed companies adopt exceptionally good safety standards. The less said the better about the others,” he said.
Sources say safety belts are of little use in the event of a fall from a great height. Nowadays, workers need to be equipped with what is known in the industry as “safety harness”, which is supplemented by quality helmets, lanyards and fall arresters. However, inquiries show that many companies overlook such vital safety gadgets and provide their workers with only safety belts.
Sources also highlight the need to equip workers with construction-specific shock absorbers hooked to the safety rope, without which there is a high risk of suffering internal injuries in a fall. “Even after wearing all such safety equipment, a worker may still suffer injuries in the event of a fall from height, but his untimely death can be avoided,” said a safety officer at a prominent firm.”
“Unfortunately, many unprofessional safety inspectors, with absolutely no knowledge of even essential safety gadgets, overlook the necessity of their workers being equipped with such essential safety devices,” said a veteran professional, backed by several years of experience in the business of safety equipment.. “Even the use of low-quality scaffolding can sometimes contribute to injuries and even deaths if it collapses,” he said.
Some engineers blame the companies’ rush for so-called accreditations, which they say are of little use in the real sense. “Probably the only people who benefit from such accreditations are some of the organisations that grant them the same without doing a thorough evaluation of the companies’ on-the-site record,” said an industry professional.
Instead, he advocated the setting up of an in-house department to review on-site performance. An engineer questioned, “What’s the point in granting such accreditations if accidents repeatedly occur on the sites concerned?”
The representative of a safety equipment supply company said there had been cases of a company’s greed resulting in a disaster. He said even though he had advised a safety official to buy flashback arresters to prevent fires in the event of some untoward incident, in particular gas cylinder explosions, he refused to listen. “Needless to say, after a few months, there was a cylinder blast in his workplace. Fortunately, there was no loss of life as there was nobody in the neighbourhood of the mishap site.”
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