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Safety rules defied in construction sites

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Most construction firm owners directly or indirectly force workers to work without any safety gear and in hazardous conditions which lead to frequent accidents at construction sites, reports The Daily Star on July 23, 2011.


With a high unemployment rate, firm owners have the luxury of firing anyone who talks about safety, and hiring someone who does not.

Construction workers and their leaders alleged if they demand safety equipment, employers refuse to recruit them or ask them to buy the equipment themselves.

Violations of Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC), which deals with workers' safety, are rampant in the capital.

During visits to several construction sites at different areas of the capital, it was noticed that the site authorities ignore rules of BNBC regularly.

General Secretary Mohammad Abdur Razzak of Imarat Nirman Sramik Union told The Daily Star that they feel helpless as no government authority stands beside them to ensure safety at the sites.

He said they cannot bargain with their employers for safety measures as the employers either show no interest or sack the workers demanding safe equipment.

Safety and Rights Society, a rights organisation, in a press release yesterday revealed that a total of 97 people were killed at construction sites between January and June this year.

During a visit to an accident spot in Kakrail, where four workers died on Thursday when a makeshift lift plunged to the ground, workers said the four lives could have been saved if the site authorities paid heed to their demands.

They said a few days ago the cable of the lift snapped and repair was done with very little care.

Sekender Ali Mina, programme director of Safety and Rights Society, said according to BNBC, a material hoist cannot be used to transport workers.

Separate temporary lifts must be used for carrying workers, it adds.

The lift in Kakrail was carrying a heavy load of tiles and the four workers.

The lone official present at the Kakrail construction site left rather hurriedly when The Daily Star correspondent approached him for comments.

In Motijheel on Toyenbee Circular Road, The Daily Star reporter saw three workers working on the exterior at the 14-storey level of a 15-storey building, standing on a bamboo-made platform hanging by a few ropes. There was no safety railing or any other safety harness tethering them to the building. They were not using helmets and were in regular clothing.

According to BNBC, all scaffolding exceeding 20 metres or six-storey in height shall be made with non combustible or fire retardant materials.

Regarding workers' safety, BNBC states, helmets must be worn by workmen and other personnel at all times during work.

The 15-storey under construction building did not even have any safety measure for pedestrians using the adjacent pavement. It had no fence or proper safety net to protect pedestrians from falling objects.

BNBC states -- all construction work from 1.5 metre from the road must be enclosed with a fence no less than 2.4 metre high from the grade.

It also says if the work is 1.5 metre away from the road, the fence or other barriers must be erected at least on the side of the site nearest to the footpath or road. The fence must extend over the entire length of the site.

Construction materials were seen left on the adjacent pavement as well at the Toyenbee Circular Road construction site.

A worker at the site preferring anonymity said they could not dare to demand safety measures even though they feel the need, as the authorities will just sack them.

The Daily Star correspondent could not reach any of the officials of the construction company Diganta Prokoushali Ltd, and there was none present at the site.

On October 13, 2010, the High Court asked the government to establish a National Building Code Enforcement Authority in accordance with the code. The HC also asked the government to implement the order within a year after receiving the copy of the judgement.

The authorities have yet to receive the copy of the judgement, said Sekender Ali Mina of Safety and Rights Society.

Sheikh Abdul Mannan, joint secretary and member (planning) of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), said on an average they give approval to around 8,000 buildings every year, and in 2007 they gave permission to over 16,000 buildings.

But they have no wing to monitor safety measures at the construction sites, he added.

A construction worker at the Toyenbee Road site said, preferring anonymity, that their sub-contractor never makes full payments of their wages. He said if they had full wages they would be able to leave and work somewhere else.

He said his daily wage is Tk 320, but if he falls sick he gets Tk 150 a day. However, Tk 150 is deducted, for each day he was sick, from his wages when he recovers and joins work. In other words, when a worker is sick, he gets nothing.

When a worker gets injured and is unable to work, the company authorities usually give him a very small amount of money for treatment, and as he starts to recover he is sent home with some money for transport expenses, workers at the site said.

Hailing from Chandpur, Faruque Hossain, cousin and co-worker of Rubel who died in the Kakrail accident on Thursday, said, "I am scared. Owners pay no importance to our safety. I quit the job and I am going home to work with my father as an agricultural labourer."

The construction firm, four workers of which had died in the Kakrail accident, compensated the bereaved families with Tk 3 lakh each.

The firm, Builders for Future Ltd, also gave Tk 4,000 to each of the families for burial.

Following the fatal accident, another worker Mohammad Asgar Ali filed a murder case against four officials of the construction firm, and the firm's tiles contractor in connection with the deaths.

The accused are Managing Director Tanvirul Huq Probal, Site Manager Sheikh Tanvirul Hassan, Project Contractor Gazibur Rahman, General Manager Aslam, and tiles contractor Hannan.

The firm was building a 20-storey structure -- Iris Noor Jahan -- in the capital's Kakrail area.

In the case statement, Asgar Ali alleged that negligence of the accused caused the accident as the lift collapsed only a few days after the authorities had repaired its cable.

Police yesterday arrested the tiles contractor, Hannan, and sent him to jail through a Dhaka court.

Contacted, Asgar Ali told The Daily Star that the firm settled the matter by giving Tk 3 lakh to each dead worker's family.

“We are now preparing to withdraw the case,” he said.

Construction workers Zahidul Islam, 26, Delwar Hossain, 28, and his two nephews Rubel, 20, and Abdur Rahman, 18 died in the accident.