With activities of the construction industry coming under scrutiny in recent years, the relevant authorities are stepping up efforts to reduce risks and practices that are deemed dangerous.
ONE evening in March 2013, A. Vijayasingam and Arifpuddin Mansoruddin were trying to negotiate their vehicles through the heavily congested Jalan Lapangan Terbang Subang.
Their cars could hardly move while stuck in the Friday traffic under the now completed Glenmarie LRT station, when nearly 10 tonnes of construction equipment fell on their cars.
The cause was due to a lifting operation at the LRT construction site that went awry, killing Vijaysingam, 34, and badly injuring Arifpuddin, 42.
This incident is just one example of how construction work can endanger the public if workers are not properly trained to perform hazardous operations.
The above is just an example that underscores Malaysia’s poor record in construction safety, with the authorities admitting that there have been far higher fatality rates in this sector compared to other industries.
In 2015, 140 people perished while working in the sector, a 57% increase compared to 2014. This translates to 21% of overall work-related fatalities or 10.94 per 100,000 workers.
With such disturbing figures arising from accidents in the construction industry, the focus has been on increasing efforts to improve safety measures for all in the sector, said the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB).
However, the board’s chief executive officer Datuk Ahmad Asri Abdul Hamid said that most fatalities, if not all, could have been avoided.
“In a lot of cases, we failed to follow the guidelines, procedures and the safety system,” he said during a media workshop last month.
“Because of that, we see a negative perception from the public with regard to the construction industry.”
A public perception on construction industry survey was commissioned in 2014 by the board, which comes under the Works Ministry. It surveyed participants across several dimensions including safety, quality, environmental friendliness and adoption of technology.
“The survey found that the industry achieved an overall perception index of 65. Furthermore, only two out of three members of the public have a positive perception of the industry,” said the board as it unveiled Construction Industry Transformation Programme 2016-2020 last September.
This poor perception affects the ability of the industry to attract the right talents, or sufficient talents in the first place.
“More than 40% of youths (below 24 years old) have a lower perception of taking up a career in construction, citing safety issues as a deterrent for them to enter the industry,” the board added.
The final nail in the coffin is the low level of public awareness of government-led initiatives that benefit industry stakeholders, with 60% of respondents declaring they were not aware of such initiatives.
A programme under the 11th Malaysia Plan, the Construction Industry Transformation Programme (CITP) aims for quality, safety and professionalism to be ingrained in the culture of the industry, with the aspiration to halve worksite fatalities and injuries by 2020.
Naturally, arresting the number of deaths and accidents is one of the key thrusts of CITP. Some of the causes for the poor safety record of the industry are easy to identify.
CIDB pointed out the industry is characterised by the limited numbers of certified safety individuals such as Safety and Health Officers, Site Safety Supervisors, and Occupational Safety and Health inspectors, which then limit the level of enforcement of safety related matters.
In its Master Plan for Occupational Safety and Health in Construction Industry 2005-2010, a joint effort by CIDB and the Occupational Safety and Health Department (DOSH), some underlying causes for the high number of incidents include the “lack of occupational safety and health (OSH) information, training materials, courses and programmes for workers and supervisors; lack of standard guidelines on construction industry requirements for the development of OSH solutions; lack of communication between those in charge of construction processes and the workers executing them; and the misconception that OSH protection is an unnecessary expenditure”.
The document also noted that quite often senior managers of the construction industry fail to understand the benefits of OSH programmes, and how it could increase productivity, thus leading to inadequate provision during budgeting and unclear specifications on OSH requirements at construction sites.
In this regard, the government is cognisant that change would have to begin from the highest levels of the industry, as it has been said that “a project starts well before ground is broken”.
MRT leads the way
Some good news is emerging as far as major infrastructure projects are concerned. For example, the country’s largest infrastructure project at the moment, the Klang Valley MRT (KVMRT) project, is being turned into an example of how to do things right, especially for Line 2, which is also known as the Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya (SSP) line.
The project owner is Finance Ministry-owned Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Sdn Bhd (MRTC), which has appointed MMC-Gamuda KVMRT PDP SSP Sdn Bhd (MGJV PDP-SSP) as the project delivery partner (PDP) to oversee at least 91 tenders for the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line alone, while 21 tenders had already been awarded for the SSP Line.
MRTC’s SSP project director Datuk Amiruddin Ma’aris said the safety initiatives were important as the construction work is mainly in populated areas.
“The construction of this huge infrastructure project will involve heavy work in an extremely challenging urban environment where there is concern over safety. This is why MRTC and our Project Delivery Partner have designed initiatives to address these worries,” he said at a media briefing at KVMRT’s purpose built construction competency and safety training centre at Sungai Buloh, Selangor recently.
The training centre was completed last year at a cost of RM10mil, and is accredited by CIDB and the National Institute of Occupation Safety and Health (Niosh) to conduct training for construction workers as well as supervisors.
Areas of training cover OSH matters as well as imparting skills for specific high-risk jobs, such as operating a mobile crane.
Experience from building Line 1 or the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line of the KVMRT has shown that the majority of construction accidents tend to happen during lifting operations, or workers falling from heights (anything more than two metres).
Following the opening of the training centre, contractors for KVMRT projects must send their workers for safety induction courses.
Workers without the “entry level” certification, also known as the Green Card, will sit for classroom lessons to qualify for one.
However, as it is known that there are quite a number of fake Green Cards in circulation, a deed committed by irresponsible contractors who hire cheap labour.
To counter this, MRTC and MGJV PDP-SSP are upping the game by demanding that those who enter its sites must carry a Safety Passport. To be eligible for a Safety Passport, the candidate must have a valid Green Card, which has a hologram embedded into it.
The “entry level” passport is known as the Blue Card, which is a new requirement for anyone who enters any KVMRT site.
“The Blue Card system bypasses the problem of undocumented workers or those with fake Green Cards. During inspections, those without the Safety Passport can be immediately identified and removed,” said Amiruddin.
Arrangements have also been made to ensure that subcontractors, crane companies, transporters and suppliers also receive adequate training.
For example, the training centre offers free courses for crane operators to ensure they are totally competent to manoeuvre a crane during lifting, considered as one of the most high-risk activity in construction.
“This is on top of the basic requirement of having the public service vehicle licence,” said Amiruddin, adding that his goal is to train more than 400 crane operators who will be working at the height the KVMRT construction.
There is also transformation at the highest levels of project management with MRTC and MGJV PDP-SSP imposing higher safety-related requirements on those intending to bid for contracts for the SSP line.
For example, the use of tubular scaffolding will no longer be permitted. Instead, successful contractors will have to invest in properly engineered scaffolding that provides a stable platform for access and work. Typically, these scaffolds and their associated components are capable of supporting at least four times the maximum intended load. Toe boards – important to ensure objects do not fall off the edge of scaffolds – are also a must.
“MGJV PDP-SSP also insists that those operating cranes that are more than 10 years must furnish DOSH-approved third party certifications every six months in order to manage the risk of using old equipment on site,” said Adil Putra Ahmad, MGJV PDP-SSP’s project coordinator.
No doubt, construction costs will be driven up, but then, there is no leeway for any contractor to undercut another by underinvesting in safety.
“Everyone plays on the same level field, and they just have to factor in the price when they prepare their bids,” added Adil Putra.
DOSH argued that if these new measures are not made mandatory, a bidder who is more safety-conscious may be at a disadvantage as rivals who do not price in these new requirements will likely put in a lower bid.
“One of the features of the Construction Industry Transformation Programme is to mandate the allocation of a certain percentage of project cost for safety and health requirements to be included in project tenders,” said DOSH director-general Datuk Mohtar Musri.
More initiatives can be expected from this training centre following the signing of a MoU between MRTC, MGJV PDP-SSP, CIDB Holdings Sdn Bhd, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) last September, with future areas of cooperation including raising awareness, developing competency in high risk activities, consultancy and information sharing. The MOU also sets the stage for research and development of OSH standards and policies.So far, the training centre’s Master Trainer Programme has produced 40 master trainers, who went on to help train 300 trainers and assessors. They in turn helped ensure that nearly 20,000 workers on the SSP line are “safety-ready”.
On the enforcement front, CIDB carried out 3,422 enforcement visits to construction sites across the country and checked 68,700 construction workers in 2015.
“Of that number, 20,528 workers did not posses valid Green Cards. As such, the CIDB issued notices to 128 contractors involved,” said Noryani Ismail, CIDB’s general manager for corporate communications.
Last month, CIDB and DOSH signed a memorandum to elevate the level of co-operation in OSH matters in the construction industry.
“Firstly, we want to co-ordinate our enforcement activities. Both agencies will share information on sites visited to avoid duplication and ensure a larger area is covered,” said Mohtar.
“We are also looking at competency training and development. The need for competency is very much needed in the industry.
“DOSH has its training through National Occupational Skills Standard (Noss). By pooling our resources together, we will be able to conduct training more effectively.
“We would also like to formulate standard assessment methods to be used by the industry incorporating regulatory and standard compliance to develop the best practices. Lastly, by combining resources like funding and manpower, DOSH and CIDB can jointly conduct promotions on OSH,” he added.
The good news is that formal education is not compulsory for someone to be an accredited site supervisor.
This will only augur well for the sector given that the SSP Line and LRT3 (from Bandar Utama to Johan Setia, Klang), are expected to see ground breaking ceremonies this year.
“CIDB recognises even those without formal education, as long as they have adequate job experience and have passed the assessment tests conducted for the purpose of accreditation,” said Noryani.
Those interested in being accredited as a site supervisor, or any construction skill, for that matter, can get application forms from CIDB offices in their respective states.
More on the courses offered by CIDB, DOSH and Niosh can be found at cidb.gov.my, dosh.gov.my and niosh.com.my, respectively.