Priority given to safety in Indian construction industry needs a total re-look to ensure costly mishaps. A veteran in the field, A.Balasundaram, Asst. General Manager -HSE, Shapoorji Pallorji Engineering & Construction, Chennai, in an interview to Safety Messenger speaks at length about the lapses, loopholes and non- compliance of standards in the Indian construction industry at large. Excerpts…..
Q: According to you, what are the challenges faced by the Indian construction industry in terms of safety?
A: The behavior of our people is one of the main challenges. Most of them are not following the rules. Engineering education in our country is also not giving much importance to safety. Safety should be part of the Civil engineering course. Most of the safety engineers are either from Mechanical or from Electrical in cadre. Since Civil Engineers are looking after the construction works from the beginning and working in areas of risks and hazards, they should have intensive training on safety to manage the construction sites. Moreover, we are experiencing shortage of well-qualified civil engineers.
Q: How do you rate the quality of the safety features in the Indian construction Industry in comparison with the advanced countries?
A: Here are three main controls to ensure safety in work place. 1. Engineering control. 2, Administrative control, 3. PPE control. Of this, we do not have the engineering control, the most important among the three. People coming to a worksite or any hazardous area will be given a helmet and guidance – that is all what we do for safety. Only through engineering control can the physical work environment be changed to control the risk, like improve ventilation or fix faulty machinery, install shields or barriers to protect workers.
Administrative control can implement safety measures such as education and training, safe work procedures, supervision, signage, and good housekeeping. Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes items such as respirators, protective clothing such as gloves, face shields, eye protection, and footwear that serve to provide a barrier between the wearer and the chemical or material. In advanced countries like America, they have specific OHS procedures stipulated for each and every activity. They will educate these safety measures as part of their engineering education.
This will ensure the quality of work as well as the safety of the workers. We have to adopt such checklist measures to ensure the specifications of each work.
Q: Construction Workers Safety Act has been already enacted; in your opinion, how this is getting implemented?
A: Though the Act was enacted in 1996, rules were framed only by 2006. This shows how much importance we give to the worker safety. And the implementation was started still much later. In Tamil Nadu, they have taken up the rules only after the major disaster of the 11 storey building under construction recently.
The rules we framed are not competent to control the mal-practices in this sector. If we can ensure stringent punishment, then only these rules will have any effect. At least, 14 to 15 per cent of the employees still become victims of accidents like fall from scaffoldings, electrical hazards, unsafe access, unsafe service openings etc. Unless we change the Act thoroughly for the safety of the workers it will not serve the purpose at all.
In our Building and other construction workers Act (BOCW) meant to ensure the safety construction workers, there are no proposals for strict punishments to those who violate the rules. The Act proposes only certain procedures and not any serious measures to enforce the same. Those who framed the rules are not experts in this area and they don’t have any idea of the magnitude of an accident in a hazardous area like chemical factory. That is also a handicap. These rules must be framed by persons who are fully aware of HSE, then only you will have clear idea of the real hazards the workers face.
Q: Recently in Tamil Nadu, 61 persons were killed when an 11-storey building under construction collapsed. What went wrong there basically?
A: The real reason behind the accident is yet to come out. The investigation report is not released so far. However it is understood that the incident was the result of design fault and the lack of soil test before piling. It is not fair to say anything about it now, since the report is pending with the court.
Q: Since the loser is always the consumer, is there any quality check that can rely upon possible?
A: Consumer has the right to check the construction in all stages. Since the construction is done in the open, interested consumer could go there with expert engineers and check whether the construction is being done according to prescribed standards. But unfortunately, our consumers book the apartment and leave the entire responsibility to the builders.
Quality conscious builders will always check whether the work is being done according to the specifications. They check the steel, cement and the concrete mix before and after the particular work and even demolish portions if the work is done not as per specifications. In our country, both the builder and the consumer are a compromising lot by nature.
Q: The mushrooming flats in the Indian cities do not follow many of the rules and specifications in areas like sewage treatment, fire safety etc. These violations are creating lot of health and safety problems to the people. How do we correct this kind of unfair practices mostly done with the help of the local authorities?
A: It is true that fire safety is not followed by many builders. This should be taken very seriously since many shopping complexes coming up are also not following fire safety specifications. Major shortcoming is seen in earmarking space for the movements of fire engines. At least we must enforce the safety specifications strictly in public places since it involves the lives of many people•
(You can also read the complete story in the October 2014 issue)