Could you explain what safe construction practices entail?
Occupational risks differ depending on the field of one's work. For example, the risk of getting physically injured or being in an accident is not as high for me as a teacher as that for people who are engaged in field work, such as in construction. Safe construction is simply ensuring that a construction worker, when he works, can do so free from physical dangers or accidents. For this one needs to ensure the work environment, the worker's uniform etc. When the measure taken to ensure safety are of an international standard, we call those safe construction practices.
Construction workers are vulnerable to mainly four types of accidents: falling from high places, getting hit by something, electrocution, and getting stuck somewhere (such as between machinery). If we minimise the risk of these, then we can move towards construction safety.
What is the state of construction safety in Bangladesh? What are the gaps?
Unfortunately, safe construction is something which is still relatively neglected in our country. This could be due to a culture of not prioritising safety issues, lack of education and not valuing human lives properly.
Because we are a developing country, we want to always minimise costs, so we tend to not prioritise safety. Incorporation of safe practices in work will increase costs, and for this the companies too are hesitant to adopt these practices in the construction process. There is no compensation or penalisation process either. So, when accidents happen, those who are responsible get away with it.
What are the challenges we face towards ensuring construction safety?
To tackle this, I think the government needs to take the primary initiative. A regulatory body for safety is necessary. Rajuk is not enough. The role of Rajuk is to see if the building is being constructed according to the approved plans. We need an independent commission or a body and to empower it to audit and investigate safety issues.
Secondly, we need educated construction workers. In many cases because of lack of training, our workers are not aware of safety issues. Training of our workers is very necessary. This could be done through establishing institutions or though universities.
Thirdly, the construction companies need to be held accountable and incentivised for adopting safe construction practices. A construction company will be enthusiastic to adopt these if they benefit from it. At the same time, punishment must be ensured for those responsible for accidents. These are the gaps in our system now, and these challenges must be overcome.
The key challenge is to address all of these in a planned way—any of these on their own will not solve the problem.
Could you elaborate on the issue of a regulatory body?
The regulatory body would have to be empowered with executive powers through law. For example, Rajuk has executive power to demolish the part of a building if it is beyond the required distance from the road. The body for ensuring safety has to be given magistracy power to go to the construction sites for monitoring and handing out fines if necessary. These fine must be collected properly and repeat offenders must be held liable in some way.
Construction companies could also be required to obtain certification after investigation by the body every one or two months. True, this will need a lot of manpower. But to ensure safety, we have to ensure such a body. They body also be given any commercial role and needs to be involved only in a regulatory role.
What are the short-term and long-term initiatives we need?
In the short-term, it could be started through directing all registered companies to ensure safety measures institutionally and to start workers' training. The training could be arranged through our polytechnic or vocational institutes. The government could incentivise companies for using trained workers to promote safe construction.
In the long-term, we need to focus on creation and empowerment of the regulatory body. Maybe this could be started thought our magistrates or law enforcement personnel after giving them the required training and then gradually institutionalised.
At the root, the issue of education is crucial. We must promote the issue of safety, of workers' rights, of demanding those rights and for long-term planning through our education. Institutionalisation is key to establishing this culture of safety.