Safety on Worksites Must Be a Priority

In this photo taken on June 25, 2019, Cambodian labourers work on a high rise building construction site in Sihanoukville. Photo by AFP / SUN RETHY Kun

Last week, four workers lost their lives due to a construction site elevator that plunged down from the 15th floor of a building under construction in Sihanoukville. According to the authorities, this terrible tragedy was due to a cable failure. Manufacturing defect? Assembly error? Lack of maintenance? Overload? The inquiry might perhaps tell us.

In any case, this tragedy raises the issue of safety on worksites, and especially on construction sites.    

Over the last month, I have witnessed a scaffold being built along the south and west façade of a 5-story building being renovated. The installation, which lasted about a week, was handled by a team of fitters with none of them equipped with safety harnesses.    

The scaffold to be used to “wrap” the building in a green construction net consisted of an assembly of pipes with no floor at any level. It is therefore by walking on these pipes that the workers progressively rose in the open sky, without any harness in case of a fall. I admired their skillfulness and balance and, at the same time, was constantly worried that one of them might trip and fall into the void.

It was like a circus performance during which one’s admiration competes with fear when a tightrope walker dances on his tightrope high up there in the big top.  

Except that these scaffolding installers were not there to put on a show but to make a living and feed their families. Is it normal to risk one’s life this way in order to earn a living?  

Some will say: These workers are used to it and therefore risks are negligible. However, as negligible as they may be, danger in the workplace must be prevented if possible. And in this case, they can. As proof, one needs only look on the internet at the technical documentation regarding erecting scaffolding that are among the most dangerous operations on a construction site.

Fortunately, no catastrophe had to be deplored during this “wrap” installation. But that is no reason for the authorities not to take appropriate measures for such worker safety breaches to stop.

They are the more easy to identify that one only has to look up at the sky to do so.  

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