Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Safety First - such motto only surface when a life has gone

I had received complaints from residents and businesspersons staying and working in Jalan Industri Pusat Bandar Puchong 4 and 6 that a tower crane operating in a condominium construction site by Pemaju Utaria Development on Lot 3422 Mukim Petaling has endangered public safety as the crane operating exceeding the compound of the site.

I had on 3rd January 2006 written a complaint letter to the Director of Selangor Department of Occupational Safety and Health, Ir Muhtar Musri to highlight this issue to the authority. I was informed by Ir Mohtar Musrion 4th January in a telephone conversation that his officers had gone to the site and requested the developer to stop using the said tower crane.

Such approach is totally inadequate as the tower crane should be relocated as the tower crane will still endanger public safety whenever it makes a 360 degree turn.

This complaint also relates to the larger picture of how site safety precautions are emphasized and practiced in Malaysia. In the case of the death of Dr. Liew Boon Hong, the concern, expressions of outrage and a cabinet discussion have pushed the government to only now look at the statutes and lament.

Immediate prevention actions dan full regulations enforcement must be carried out.

I would like to express our deepest condolences go to the family of Dr. Liew, who lost his life at such a young age. But the loss has come through pure negligence on the part of the contractor and non accountability on the government.

Not too long ago, in November 2005, a crane collapsed at a 23 –storey apartment construction site, Batu 14 Puchong, killing four Indonesian workers. The same course of action was done by DOSH under the Human Resources Ministry. The stop work order was issued to conduct investigations.

Such deaths are common but go unreported. In the construction industry, more than 80% of the workers employed are migrant workers and we estimate half of them to be undocumented workers. Therefore whenever there is an accident or hazard at workplace, the incident is not reported nor recorded. In short, there is under reporting of incidents and of follow up action by the government agency and the local council.

This situation is very good for contractors who do not want to be accountable and who with impunity flout laws, regulations and directives.

Datuk Seri Dr. Fong Chan On, in an interview published by NST on Jan. 4th 2006 stated that the DOSH cannot revoke licenses of contractors as the licences are issued by the local authority. Did not the Minister know of this problem for the last 10 years he has been a Human Resources Minister? Why has he not taken action with the Housing and Local Government Ministry to remove this bottle-neck. It is indeed easy to pass the buck to another agency.

If we take the cue on the embedded corruption in local councils, the picture comes much clearer to the dangerous environment and death traps at construction sites.

Uphold transparence and good governance

At the heart of the matter is transparency and good governance. The call to make public the findings and causes of investigations is valid and must be a requirement. We have a very good Occupational and Safety Act that requires the setting up of safety committees at worksites.

If there have been regular inspections on construction sites, as claimed by the Human Resource’s Minister, why is the situation so bad and safety measures so weak?

It took the death of Dr.Liew Boon Hong, a corporate figure to shake the government to respond. However, we do not know what has happened and what were the findings made by DOSH. I called on DOSH to make public the findings so that there is transparency to the actual causes for the tragedy and also to take stern actions on the complaints lodged by the residents and businesspersons in Jalan Industri Pusat Bandar Puchong 4 and 6 to prevent another disaster.

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