Construction Safety : who is responsible

Posted on December 17, 2011


ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said in an occasion “There has been progress on many fronts in the world of work. But work-related deaths, accidents and diseases, are still major causes for concern. Decent work must also be safe work.” Each year, an estimated two million women and men die as a result of occupational accidents and work-related diseases. Across the globe, there are some 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million work-related diseases each year. So each day, an average of 6,000 people dies on work-related accidents or diseases.

As a major employment generator in many parts of the world, construction is a sector associated with a proportionately high number of job-related accidents and diseases. Despite mechanization, the industry is still largely labour-intensive, while working environments are frequently changing and involve many different parties. The industry also has a long tradition of employing migrant farm labour from lower-wage economies and much employment is precarious and short-term. According to ILO estimates, each year there are at least 60,000 fatal accidents on construction sites around the world. This is one fatal accident at every ten minutes. In comparison to global data, it is not necessary to explain the situation of occupational accidents in Bangladesh. From a source of NGO named ‘Safety and Rights Society’ working with workplace accidents in our country said a total 142 workers died at construction sites were reported in different Newspapers in 2010. Now the question arises – who will responsible for that? You as a Project Manager, your employer, Contractor, Sub-Contractor, Safety Committee, Government Agencies, Law enforcer, Political Leaders- None of them.
In an attempt to improve the situation before five years the government brought in laws about construction safety standards as “Bangladesh National Building Code was enacted in 2006 and it requires that developers should ensure the safety of the workers by doing proper scaffolding giving proper harnesses and all other safety measures so that workers feel safe when they are doing construction work.” Yet looking around the building sites in Dhaka, the safety of workers seem to be given a low priority.

The Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB) represents construction developers. One of the members of its executive committee said “In our sector we are continuously giving messages for our members to upgrade theirs sites.” He also blames accidents on the workforce as he said “Actually the workers come to our sites, usually they are unskilled, when they come our site, we used to train them, train them in the sense that is usually on the job training, to use helmets on the construction sites, then to put on gum boots the use of safety nets, but what we found these workers who actually before coming to our site always were barefooted, or just putting on simple tee-shirts, and so they are not familiar with keeping helmets on their head so we’re are trying to push them to use these kind of things, but we are facing problems.”

This is fact; many workers are informal or work in small companies. There is a widespread use of the contracting system. Workers are employed on a project basis, with no insurance against periods of unemployment or sickness, insecurity of employment and lack of social protection. In addition, most often they are under aged, their wages and conditions of work are far from decent. On the other hand in construction sector maximum Sub-Contractors (Labor) have no legal trade support documents or registration. No monitoring agency is there for keeping them healthier and safer and nothing about training support to make them skilled. Ministry of labor formed a body of National Council for Industrial Health and Safety in 2009. But till today we never found any active role in this regard.

Majority people say that Rajuk is one of the construction monitoring agencies in Dhaka responsible to ensure safety measures. But they are only concerned with the monitoring and controlling of set-back rules and height restrictions of building construction; they have no legal bindings of regulatory or monitory works to ensure safety standards at the construction site. Even new building construction rules and regulations are going to be implemented for Dhaka city that is FAR (floor area ratio) has a focus only on the controlling of building setback and construction volume. This new rule has no guideline for safety issues during construction. So Developers do not feel any incentive to comply with the BNBC from Rajuk. As a result in almost every case both of the owners, contractors and workers are found reluctant to ensure safety measures due to lack of knowledge, experience and consciousness.

The High Court (HC) on 13 October, 2010 issued a rule on the government to establish Bangladesh National Building Code Enforcement Authority in accordance with the code. The HC also asked the government to implement the order within one year into receiving the copy of the judgment. Until the National Building Code Enforcement Authority is established, respondents were directed to designate Rajuk, Chittagong Development Authority, Khulna Development Authority, Barisal City Corporation, Rajshahi City Corporation and Sylhet City Corporation as the code enforcement agency within three months of the receipt of the judgment. Rajuk sources confirmed that they had not yet received the copy of the HC order till last July 20, 2011. But interested people may collect the copy of this order at It is required to be highlighted that some of dedicated Non government volunteer organizations, committed for protecting and promoting human rights of workers in Bangladesh have stared work since 2007. We should remember with gratitude to those NGOs including Safety and Rights Society, Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST) & Bangladesh Occupational Safety Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE) filed a writ petition on Rangs Bhaban tragedy of 2007. This High Court order to form BNBC Authority to implement the rules was issued on that petition. Another two safety related organizations named Industrial Safety Board of Bangladesh (ISBB) and Engineering Staff College(ESCB) providing technical training support to the professionals on occupational safety health and environment management since their inception.

This is the real picture of the government regulatory body and law enforcement agencies for ensuring workers heath and safety condition in Bangladesh. So visibly no authorities in the construction sector to enforce rules preventing occupational hazards, although several hundred people die in and around building sites every year.
As there is no government authority to monitor safety for workers and safety measures at construction sites, the Developers are indifferent in this regard. So on ethic both employers and employees are particularly responsible for looking after safety and health in the workplace. This is known as duty of care. So you need to be familiar with those responsibilities as outlined in BNBC as well as ILO adopted Safety and Health in Construction Convention (No.167) and Recommendation (No.175). Here I tried to describe the responsibilities on the basis of those codes and policies:

Safety Management

The improvement of safety, health and working conditions depends ultimately upon people working together, whether governments, employers or workers. Safety management involves the functions of planning, identifying problem areas, coordinating, controlling and directing the safety activities at the work site for the prevention of accidents and ill health. Accident prevention is often misunderstood, for most people believe wrongly that the word “accident” is synonymous with “injury”. This assumes that no accident is of importance unless it results in an injury. Construction managers are obviously concerned with injuries to the workers, but their prime concern should be with the dangerous conditions that produced the injury – with the “incident” rather than the “injury”. On a construction site there are many more “incidents” than injuries. A dangerous act can be performed hundreds of times before it results in an injury, and it is to eliminate these potential dangers that managers’ efforts must be directed. They cannot afford to wait for human or material damage before doing anything. So safety management means applying safety measures before accidents happened. Effective safety management has three main objectives:
• to make the environment safe;
• to make the job safe,
• to make workers safety conscious.

Safety policies

Safe and healthy working conditions do not happen by chance. Employers need to have a written safety policy for their enterprise setting out the safety and health standards which it is their objective to achieve. The policy should name the senior executive who is responsible for seeing that the standards are achieved, and who has authority to allocate responsibilities to management and supervisors at all levels and to see they are carried out.
The safety policy should deal with the following matters:
• arrangements for training at all levels. Particular attention needs to be given to key workers such as scaffolders and                           crane operators whose mistakes can be especially dangerous to other workers;
• safe methods or systems of work for hazardous operations: the workers carrying out
these operations should be involved in their preparation;
• the duties and responsibilities of supervisors and key workers;
• arrangements by which information on safety and health is to be made known;
• arrangements for setting up safety committees;
• the selection and control of subcontractors.

Safety organization

The organization of safety on the construction site will be determined by the size of the work site, the system of employment and the way in which the project is being organized. Safety and health records should be kept which facilitate the identification and resolution of safety and health problems on the site.

In construction projects where subcontractors are used, the contract should set out the responsibilities, duties and safety measures that are expected of the subcontractor’s workforce. These measures may include the provision and use of specific safety equipment, methods of carrying out specific tasks safely, and the inspection and appropriate use of tools. The person in charge of the site should also assure that materials, equipment and tools brought on to the site meet minimum safety standards.

Training should be conducted at all levels, including managers, supervisors and workers. Subcontractors and their workers may also need to be trained in site safety procedures, because teams of specialist workers may mutually affect each others’ safety.
There should also be a system so that site management has information quickly about unsafe practices and defective equipment.

Safety and health duties should be specifically assigned to certain persons. Some examples of duties which should be listed are:
• provision, construction and maintenance of safety facilities such as access roadways,
pedestrian routes, barricades and overhead protection;
• construction and installation of safety signs;
• safety provisions peculiar to each trade;
• testing of lifting machinery such as cranes and goods hoists, and lifting gear such as
ropes and shackles;
• inspection and rectification of access facilities such as scaffolds and ladders;
• inspection and cleaning of welfare facilities such as toilets, clothing accommodation and
• transmission of the relevant parts of the safety plan to each work group;
• emergency and evacuation plans.

Safety Officer/Manager

Every construction company of any size should appoint a properly qualified person (or persons) whose special and main responsibility is the promotion of safety and health. Whoever is appointed should have direct access to an executive director of the company. His or her duties should include:
• the organization of information to be passed from management to workers, including
those of subcontractors;
• the organization and conduct of safety training programmes, including induction
training for all workers on the site;
• the investigation and review of the circumstances and causes of accidents and
occupational diseases so as to advise on preventive measures;
• acting as consultant and technical adviser to the safety committee;
• participation in pre-site planning.
To carry out these functions the safety officer should have experience of the industry and should be properly trained and qualified and, where such exists, should be a member of a recognized professional safety and health body.


Good planning and organization at each work site and the assignment of clear responsibility to supervisors are fundamental to safety in construction. “Supervisor” here means the first level of supervision, which on site is variously termed as “foreman”, “chargehand”, “ganger”, and so on.
Each supervisor requires the direct support of site management and should seek to assure within his or her field of competence that:
• working conditions and equipment are safe;
• workplace safety is regularly inspected;
• workers have been adequately trained for the job they are expected to do;
• workplace safety measures are implemented;
• the best solutions are adopted using available resources and skills;
• necessary personal protective equipment is available and used.
Making the work site safe will require regular inspection and provision of the means for taking remedial measures. The training of workers enables them to recognize the risks involved and how they can overcome them. Workers should be shown the safe way of getting a job done.


Every worker is under a moral, and often also a legal, duty to take the maximum care for his or her own safety and that of fellow workers. There are various ways of involving workers directly in site conditions, such as:
• “tool-box briefing”, a five- to ten-minute session with the supervisor just prior to
starting a task gives the workers and the supervisor a chance to talk about safety
problems likely to be encountered and potential solutions to those problems. This
activity is simple to implement and it may prevent a serious accident;
• “safety check”; a check by workers that the environment is safe before starting an
operation may allow them to take remedial action to correct an unsafe situation that
could later endanger them or another worker.

Safety committee

An active safety committee is a great spur to safety. Its primary purpose is to enable management and workers to work together to monitor the site safety plan so as to prevent accidents and improve working conditions on site. Its size and membership will depend on the size and nature of the site and upon differing legal and social conditions in the countries concerned, but it should always be an action-oriented group of people in which both management and workers are represented. The safety committee carrying out a site inspection together raises the level of safety consciousness at the site. The duties carried out by an active safety committee will include:
• regular and frequent meetings to discuss the safety and health programme on site and to
recommendations to management;
• consideration of reports of safety personnel;
• discussion of accident and illness reports in order to make recommendations for
• evaluating improvements made;
• examination of suggestions made by workers, particularly by safety representatives;
• planning and taking part in educational and training programmes, and information

Safety Representatives

These are appointed by workers, sometimes in accordance with national legislation, to represent them in dealing with safety and health matters on site. They should be experienced workers well able to recognize construction site hazards, although they are likely to require training to acquire new skills in inspection and in using information. Their functions are:
• to make representations to the management about matters of concern regarding the
safety and health of workers;
• to attend meetings of the safety committee;
• to carry out regular and systematic inspections on site;
• to investigate accidents in conjunction with management to determine their causes and
to propose remedies;
• to investigate complaints by workmates;
• to represent workers in discussions with government inspectors at their site visits.
Safety representatives should be given sufficient time off to be trained and to carry out their duties properly. These activities should be without loss of pay, for a safe and healthy site benefits both employers and workers.

a.Risky construction goes unwatched;Police, The Daily Star, 20July 2011
b.Bangladesh’s Construction Boom Resulting in High Number of Worker Deaths, Saturday, 09 October 2010 13:54 David Bergman, c.
d.Bangladesh: Construction sites go unwatched;
e.Safety at construction sites Need to enforce building codes; The Daily Star, Friday, April 29, 2011
f.Safety, health and welfare on construction sites Dr. Chandra Pinnagoda, Chief, Occupational Safety and Health Branch Working g.Conditions and Environment Department
h.Building construction in Bangladesh: Safety issues; Falguni Mallick; The Daily Star, 27 April 2007
i.FACTS ON Safety at Work;

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