Monday, August 1, 2016

Site Accidents, Whose Baby Is It Anyway?

“No child wants to fall off a jungle gym or slide. Accidents are an unfortunate fact of life, but to lower every last slide and jungle gym to a height that would only interest a toddler is doing our children a grave disservice”… Darrell Hammond

Darrell Clayton Hammond is an American actor, stand-up comedian and impressionist; though what he has mentioned about the accidents is sheer philosophy of life. Our Pune city & especially consistency with which it keeps us engaged in same issues repeatedly never stops amazing me & the recent site accident at one of ongoing construction work isn’t exception to what I said about the city! Needles to say as the accident was at a builder’s site so it has bound to get lot more attention of media as well political fraternity, especially when the State Assembly session is ongoing! Though site accidents are not new to the city yet every time when some such accident happens, just the names get changed & same statement has been issued by all the concerned authorities right from police to our beloved PMC & the elected members including Hon Mayor. If at all any difference is there then it is names of the authorities which keeps on transferring or the Hon Mayor or Guardian Minister’s names & yes the accident projects name & workers names too!  Every year some or other site in thousands of ongoing construction in & around Pune succumbs to some accident, when the death toll rises to two figures then suddenly everyone is awake & realizes how dangerous site labors life is; media prints images of dangerously working site labors. The joke is after recent accident in three of the leading news papers, workers have been shown working at higher floors of some building & at outer edge, with caption “life in hanging”, where as the safety belt was clearly being seen in the picture & well tied safely; such is knowledge of our media about the issue as grave as site safety! After two or three days & people are fade up with the routine statements from authorities like civic body chiefs,  yes we are coming up with some system by which safety will be assured, political leaders will blame builders along with rival political parties involvement & demand stop work of all the works of the said builder; whereas police will be busy in searching the culprits which they won’t find till the involved people gets bail from the court! After few days the whole matter will become history till some other major mishap takes the front page! I won’t blame the builder also as they too are part of the circus named accident!

Question I will ask is are we ever going to understand the root cause of site accidents? As first of all, lets understand the real estate or call building industry for instance as we are referring to construction aspect of real estate only, is governed by maximum use of manual labors in compare to any other industry, making it accident prone naturally! As in any job where human interference is maximum, chances of errors causing accidents are more! In this industry the promoter or builder or owner whatever you call it doesn’t require knowledge or qualification by law at least till now. So all he has to do is form a company, buy a piece of land or enter in a JV with landlord, hire an architect, get the plans sanctioned from local civic body, the hire structural consultant, get the structural drawings, then get some site supervisor along with a contractor & build the building as per the drawings by making a turnkey contract with the contractor, to safe guard his i.e. builders position, that’s it, start taking booking & done! For years this has been routine of the building industry, so you can’t deny the builders sincere confession that, “My Lord, I am a non technical person so I know nothing about site safety or construction & that’s why I have appointed all these experienced & technical professionals to build the building for me, now what more I can do if any accident happens, how I can be at blame!”, bail granted! Architects says, my job is just to make the drawings & get necessary sanctions from PMC, how I can be associated with site workmanship & accident?, bail granted! Structural designer says, I have giver structural drawings of the slab & column & when I checked them I found it ok, I am not responsible for shuttering of slab (support formwork for slab casting), so how I am responsible for the accident?, bail granted! Now all is left to some poor contractor, popularly known as “thekedar” & site supervisors, so hang them! Even they too have their say that the safety equipments were being given to the labors but labors refused to use it or didn’t follow the safety norms in spite repeated instruction, so what can we do?, bail may not be granted but soft punishment after the trial, is outcome! This has been tradition after any accident, which is being followed since years in building industry & at some level it suits all even the so called govt bodies that are supposed to control building industry i.e. may it be PMC, Judicially or Police.

If we really want to find a solution then let’s see what’s scene in countries like Dubai or Singapore where sky scrapers is common thing yet accidents are negligible in compare to the volume of construction ongoing over there. First of all a very clear frame work of responsibilities is there when it comes to construction activity & that’s is known to all those who are associated with the project, may it be the developer himself or even an individual labor working at site whose life is at the rick. Also the punishments are very hard, in-case of anybody failing in the responsibility as well justice is fast & swift. And most importantly the entire system respects for the value of human life! The rules or guidelines or laws are not framed to save skin of some department but to save the life & safety is the focus of entire system & that’s why their laws or systems are far more effective. At the same time the laws are practical as in recent times if we study the accidents or cause behind the accident then its outcome of avoiding something which isn’t possible to perform! For e.g. I am not justifying the recent accident but what if the slab which has collapsed & caused the causalities had been duly sanctioned? Does that mean the accident is justifiable & then no offense would have been registered against anybody? High time we should form a system to tackle the reasons which causes the accident & not for the people or set of individuals which we want to frame as guilty. Remember no accident can be stopped by making laws to hold someone as guilty but only by making set of responsibilities which will make everyone able to act in his jurisdiction achieving the end target of safety! In Dubai the civic body even uses air surveillance in Summer to ensure no worker is out in the harsh heat at off hours & heavy fines are levied on the concerned supervisor as well owner if found so. But at the same time if a worker is found smoking in work zone or moving without helmet in work zones, then they can remove him from the site as well charge fine & in some cases even deport him to his country if he is an outsider! When rules are set what to do & what not to do at work site along with the consequences of mistake then it’s always easier to follow the same, is simple logic of safety, which we yet to have understood leave apart adopting it!

First of all make list of every segment in building construction & define their roles especially about site safety aspect. More importantly before that lay down norms for working methods as well another important site accident front is due to poor accommodation of site labors. Identify the type of accidents & reasoning behind as data is the key & as usual we lack on this front, as neither PMC or any govt body nor CREDAI or MBVA i.e. associations representing developers has made any effort to keep this vital data which could be important for defining safety norms. Even Institute of Engineers like Associations or AESA which is Architects & Engineers Association, has been ignorant on keeping record of accidents & the causes behind, which has happened over the years on various construction sites. So first let’s start a cell or mechanism at respective ends for recording every single accident at sites in & around city, as unless we analyze what has went wrong in past till then we can’t correct the future course! Same is with labor accommodation at site, labor population is floating & there are lots of site limitations to have decent labor hutments but that’s doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a standard policy for the same & a specific design too, in place! Think of using amenity spaces in possession of PMC for common labor camps till the project get handed over. These spaces can be used for crèches for the labor kids or day care centers whatever we call it.

The most important aspect is lack of awareness among everyone associated with construction work regarding safety. Safety audit from third party is a must & that too periodically; because safety is an attitude & not just formality to save our skin when accident happens. Here I will ask flat holders of respective projects too, for being aware regarding labors safety. As the flat holders too are party to the accident, morally; so whenever they are visiting their home in making they should point out any lacuna, to the concerned people including developer. One more aspect from flat holders point is post actions by civic bodies in case of accident. The first action by any governing body is, give stop work notice to the ongoing construction where accident has happened; I think that’s just making media or masses happy, as else what’s going to be achieved by stopping the work? In case of illegal work it’s ok but when the work is legal & yet accident happens, then just confirm that there is no threat to the entire building & let the work resume as early as possible is the practical way to look at it! Lets form a permanent committee at city level, agreed upon by all concerned parties like a tribunal & in any accident matter unless this committee analyzes the mishap, don’t jump on any conclusions or public statement is one of the mature way to handle such incidences!

Lastly it’s not just accidents at construction sites but any loss of life due to poor workmanship or human negligence is intolerable; remember safety manual should be our attitude & not just some work specifications or norms laid down to dodge the responsibility! Apart from site accidents, right from pot holes on roads to expressway faulty design to poor maintenance of PMT busses, every day we suffer loss of lives of our dear ones & not all the time only developer is the culprit!  

Remember when an accident is outcome of negligence of responsibility then it’s no more an accident but becomes a crime! So let’s decide no one of us will be party to such crime ever; I think that will be true “shardhanjali” to the labors who have lost lives at sites! As buildings & infrastructure is our basic need for today’s living, so all we have to do is fulfill our needs without any loss of life, that should be the target than just pointing fingers at each others!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

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1 comment:

  1. Well said. Educating everyone involved and creating awareness is the first most imp step.


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