With international companies foraying into the building and construction industry in India, Indian companies are being forced to upgrade their safety norms and procedures. At a panel discussion on Safety at construction sites and the importance of following benchmarks and SOPs, it was unanimously agreed that strong policing and human conscience are the foremost requirements for safe execution of projects.
Safety in construction is frequently pushed to the bottom rung of priorities by the builders, contractors and engineers. Very often scaffolding fails, a roof collapses or a fatal accident takes place at work site. While monetary loss heads the list, loss of man-hours and material progress are equally irreparable and human life is irreplaceable. Prashant Desai, Executive Director, Suvidha Engineers who moderated the discussion, gave examples of two case studies for discussion.
Case Study 1: A project that was behind schedule. To complete the project on time, workers were called in on a Sunday and a crane operator with no prior training was given the task of lifting a 200tonne chiller to the sixth floor. Miscommunication and unsuccessful attempts resulted in delays and finally when the chiller was hauled up towards the end of the day in poor lighting conditions, the cables of crane broke and the chiller came crashing down and caused tragic causalities at the project site.
Case Study 2: A regular project where workers are installing the air-conditioning vents with no protective gear or steady scaffolding
Shriram Rahalkar, Associate Director – HSE, Jacobs Engineering India Private Limited believes that the risk of injuries in the construction industry is very high mainly because of the nature of the work carried out by different agencies employing largely unskilled workers. Lack of proper planning and communication onsite is one of the main problems. In the event of a lack of skilled machine or vehicle operator, the operation should ideally be postponed. There is a need for accountability and that can only happen when proper processes and SOPs are put in place. With reference to the first case study, lack of planning, unskilled workers, lack of safety precautions like barricading, checking the capacity of crane straps, insufficient lights and total disregard to human life are responsible for the accident.
Rajiv Saxena, Sr. General Manager – Manufacturing, Prod Sales, Customer Care, Voltas Limited strongly believes that there is a need to check the licenses of the contractors involved and also the heavy machinery used at site. Most often heavy machinery like cranes, dumpers, excavators are not of good condition or are manned by unskilled operators with ‘no’ or ‘forged’ licenses. It becomes the duty of the service contractor and the Site manager to check these. Similarly, every operation in a project has certain mandatory requirements that need to be considered before work commencement. Wind conditions, lighting, climate, rainfall, skills are some of these factors. If a postmortem is done on the the first case study, then the sure the faults would be identified as inadequate lighting at site and lack of skills of the crane operator. As for the second case study, it is imperative for the client to ensure proper scaffolding. The client must be educated on the fact that proper working conditions and support to the workers will ensure time deliveries.
Considering both case studies, Nishith Dand, Director, Sure Safety (India) Pvt Ltd had only one question to ask – ‘Was the risk assessment done?’ In most episodes of fatal incidents at construction sites, the onus always lies with everyone involved in the project – starting from the client, the contractor, the supervisors and the workers. Responsibility begins with the client when he signs a contract with the architect and project consultant. He has to lay down SLAs, protocols and compliance standards. Non-adherence or noncompliance to any of the signed conditions would result in stoppage of project and the appointment of new architect or consultant. This process has to be repeated between the project consultant and the contractors, and so on and so forth. Enforcing this is just as important. There are recent examples where two Developers in Gujarat were imprisoned when workers were killed onsite during construction.
India needs to set standards once and for all. A bill that gets tabled in the Parliament needs to be pushed forward and implemented to the level of being enforced. Only then will working conditions and site conditions improve. Accountability is the need of the day.
B B Shah, Head Central Projects, Cipla Ltd, also agrees that the schedule of work and work pressure have to be anticipated much in advance to reduce such careless accidents. He lays emphasis on the need for safety and security equipment and guidelines to be provided by the client itself. Established developers / clients need to set examples and educate their staff on safety and precautions. In India, most labourers are poor migrants with no education, nil health benefits and absolutely no insurance cover. In such a scenario, it must be made imperative to have standards and processes for each work in a project.
G Vaidhyanathan, Dy. Dir. Gen (Retd), DG FASLI, Ministry of Labour, Govt of India, notes that an assessment case does not need to be very elaborate after an analysis. It can be a simple one of organizing the work, identifying the people and also the equipment suitable for the project.
It is important to have a couple of safety officers with specific qualifications stationed onsite depending on the size of the project. Alternatively, Project Managers could appoint two or three safety personnel in the head quarters and have them visit the site on a regular basis or whenever critical jobs are being executed.
There is an urgent and pressing need to draw a five point strategy considering the rate at which the construction industry in India is progressing. There has to be ‘value for life’ and accountability. There is a need to impose and enforce Standards and Benchmarks and adherence to these. It is vital to have tool box meetings at the start of each day with clear instructions on the job to be performed and the task of each individual in the team. This could take 15 minutes to half an hour, but they are precious minutes that could go a long way in saving lives. It is also important to put in place regular Job Safety Analysis (JSA). JSA has to be updated everytime one operation ends and the next begins. There is need for the current work culture to change and this is bound to happen only when fresh talent and fresh mindsets come together and work in unison. One needs to come to the site with ones conscience and leave the site with the conscience intact.