THE recent spate of construction work accidents brings to focus the dire need for something to be done fast.
Each time these accidents occur, there will be announcements from various government bodies about measures to audit the site and stop the work until safety is improved.
But the cycle of accidents will repeat itself again, and the public will be left to wonder what happened to all these promised improvements.
Unless a deeper analysis of the cause is made, the changes will remain superficial and long-term improvement will remain elusive.
Over the years, there have been more projects being implemented in the city, which have involved heavy structures built over densely populated areas and creating severe hazards to the public. The industry, however, has not kept up in addressing the hazard and risk mitigation measures that are required.
Added to this has been the decline in supervision of the works that has contributed to the lack of adequate oversight by clients, consultants and contractors.
Finally, enforcement of serial offenders for safety violations have rarely led to any prosecution of the companies or directors involved by DOSH (director of occupational safety and health) nor has there been any suspension from tenders for contractors who have a poor safety record.
Is it any wonder then that these accidents keep recurring?
There needs to be a more holistic solution to the problem that involves the Work Ministry, DOSH, CIDB (Construction Industry Development Board), engineering consultants and contractors. Unless all the stakeholders get their heads rolling, these accidents will continue to recur.
The first phase of a project is design. Design of works need to take into account the requirement of safe construction. The occupational safety and health risks of the construction project can be avoided, eliminated or controlled in the design phase (pre-construction phase) of the project.
Prevention through design (PtD), as popularly known in United States literature and also known as Design for Safety (DfS) in Singapore, Construction Design and Management (CDM) in the UK and Safe Design in Australia are already being implemented overseas for construction safety, whereby design professionals are required to take into account the safety of construction at the design phase of the project. Our government needs to make this a mandatory requirement, incorporated into all design phases of projects.
The next phase is procurement. Principal clients have a responsibility to ensure that safety has adequate sums of money allocated to it and not left to the contractor to price as low as possible to win the tender.
The practice of leaving safety to be priced by the tenderer needs to be replaced by a minimum sum with provisional quantities in tenders to cover for adequate safety at the workplace. (For KVMRT2, it was 2%.)
CIDB has recently issued the Occupational Safety and Health – Specification and Bill of Quantities (BQ) for Construction Works. This document should form the basis for all tender documents for safety for all construction tenders going forward.
Principal clients should also ensure all projects are scoped with a hazard register, which includes occupational health and safety risks and ensuring all staff on site are adequately trained in identifying and managing hazards.
Clients must take responsibility for competent supervision and enforcement of safety during the construction phase for both the contractor and supervision consultant personnel.
Crane operations is a high risk activity that deserves special attention. A crane is a complex machine requiring considerable knowledge for safe operation. This knowledge can only be gained through proper training and hands-on experience.
Malaysia has been a dumping ground for second-hand cranes for a long time. The crane industry representatives have opined that 90% of the 4,000 cranes in the market are more than 20 years old. This puts an even greater emphasis on experienced crane operators to be available to operate these cranes.
Unfortunately, the training and certification of crane operators has not been effective. The number of skilled crane operators in the market is inadequate.
There is also no certification distinction between a 50 tonne crane operator who can undertake a heavy lift from a crane operator who has only undertaken a maximum of 20 tonne lift.
Competent crane operators don’t undertake a lifting operation alone. They need the support of lifting supervisors and competent engineers to assess the lift and ensure that the lift can be safety implemented.
They also often encounter uneven or soft ground at the construction site that has recently been worked or back-filled. This puts the responsibility of the lifting supervisor and professional engineer to evaluate such conditions to ensure that ground pressures generated by the crane’s weight do not exceed the load-bearing capacity of the soil.
It is imperative that all lifting operations exceeding 10 tonnes should be supervised by a qualified lifting supervisor with engineering personnel oversight. This is not the case in most projects currently being undertaken in Malaysia.
Site supervisors double up as lifting supervisors and are overloaded with just dealing with their other duties. Engineering oversight is an exception rather than the norm in lifting works.
The final phase is construction. Here, supervision plays a key role in preventing accidents. Typical supervisory functions include planning and allocating work, making decisions, monitoring performance and compliance, providing leadership and building teamwork, and ensuring workforce involvement.
In any project, there are three levels of hierarchy that ensures safety. Firstly, the clients team that sets the standards and provides oversight; secondly, the consultant supervision team who provide the review of construction methods and supervise the installation of works; and finally the contractors who undertake the works and enforce safety at the worksite.
The contract specifications bind these teams to a set of standards that needs to be adhered and enforced. Unfortunately, the industry is mired in a culture of progress and cost-over safety. This culture will only change when the government takes a more serious effort to penalise safety offences.
Immediate measures should be implemented without delay. Firstly, suspension of the contractors from future tenders for one year; secondly, prosecuting company directors of the client and the principal contractors; and finally enhancing the role and reporting lines of the supervising consultant to ensure that construction methods and supervision of safe methods are enforced by empowering the supervising consultants the right to stop work for non compliance.
Research has shown that attitudes towards safety will change only when the behaviours change through effective deterrent pain and gain measures.
Former project director
Klang Valley MRT Serdang-Sungei Buloh Line
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