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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Opinion | Construction industry accidents: Need for auto-response mandated by law

This latest case is representative of the plight of construction labour in India, especially in the event of a serious accident. Even as high profile an organisation as the Smart City Corporation, does not seem to have the policy to deal with worksite accidents.

opinion Updated: Oct 18, 2019 17:30 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Labourers work at the construction site of a residential building on the outskirts of Kolkata, India.
Labourers work at the construction site of a residential building on the outskirts of Kolkata, India.(Photo: Reuters)
         

On October 6, when an accident occurred at a construction site of the Pune Smart City Development Corporation Ltd (PSCDCL), the response — or the lack of it — from the authorities to the agonies of the construction labourer was shocking.

A 48-year-old worker, Eknath Bawari, had almost sawed off his leg while cutting wooden planks at the smart city’s worksite in the Baner-Balewadi area. Bleeding profusely, his cries for help drew the attention of the residents and the security guards of a neighbouring housing society.

It was a Sunday and neither the worksite supervisor, labour contractor nor officials from Smart City Corporation could be reached during this emergency. When there was no guarantee of the prompt arrival of an ambulance, some of the residents became worried that the worker could bleed himself to death, or, most certainly, suffer amputation. Finally, a woman pulled out her car and took him to the nearest civil hospital where he was provided with first aid.

Once his condition stabilised, he was shifted to the larger, government-run Sassoon General Hospital because this was now a medico-legal case. At Sassoon, he received free medical treatment and was discharged after about a week.

This migrant worker, who was all by himself, did not receive any form of “emergency financial aid” either from his labour contractor or from PSCDCL, and this was not out of place because there is no such provision in the law, said advocate Yogendra Sinh Rajput, a former sessions court judge in Pune.

The Pune Smart City CEO, however, assured this newspaper that the “fullest assistance” would be extended to the labourer and the contractor would be asked to pay compensation.

It was only a few days after the accident that the contractor visited the injured worker. By this time, the media was reporting this case in great detail. It was a good 10 days after the accident— on October 17— that the PSCDCL persuaded the contractor to hand over Rs. 5,000 to the worker, and had a picture taken of this “handing over ceremony”.

When the PSCDCL was asked for a copy of its worksite accidents policy or protocol, the chief engineer said this had been “integrated” into the work-order given to the contractor and the “necessary deductions” would be made at the time of clearing his payment after about two months. He, however, could not furnish a copy of the work-order or the policy saying that the CEO’s permission was required to do so.

This latest case is representative of the plight of construction labour in India, especially in the event of a serious accident. Even as high profile an organisation as the Smart City Corporation, does not seem to have the policy to deal with worksite accidents.

Last month, Hemant Sethi, country head of British Safety Council (BSC), an international body promoting workplace safety, cited a 2017 BSC study that observed that, on an average, there were 38 fatal accidents a day in the construction industry in India, which is the second-largest employer of the workforce in the country after agriculture.

Sethi pointed out that workers in this industry were poorly trained because their employers did not invest in their training and safety. Also, they were exposed to serious risks of occupational diseases and the attitude that treats workers’ safety as their problem was widespread in the industry.

A study ‘An estimate of fatal accidents in Indian construction’ by Neeraj Kumar Jha (IIT, Delhi) and Dilip A Patel (Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology) noted that at least 11,600 workers would have died annually in the Indian construction sector between 2008 and 2012.

Things can change for the better for construction labourers if, at least, a beginning is made by some organisations with a well laid out policy to deal with worksite accidents. Such a policy needs to serve as the default response in the event of an accident and address three primary issues: provision for first-aid, emergency financial assistance and procedure for claiming compensation.