A photo published in this paper yesterday of a construction worker standing precariously on the edge of the roof of an under-construction building, in the capital’s Manda area, speaks volumes about the building owners and construction companies’ apathy towards the safety of workers. The man in the picture is seen unloading concrete mixture from the bucket of a mini-crane without wearing any protective gear, and no other protective measures are visible to make sure he does not fall off the roof. It means that an accident can take place anytime. Only a few days ago, three construction workers died falling from a 10-storey under-construction building in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi area.
Time and again, we have brought the issue of construction workers’ safety to the attention of the authorities concerned, but unfortunately, the situation has not improved. While deaths and injuries of workers are common occurrences in the city and elsewhere, no substantial measures are visible anywhere in ensuring their occupational safety and compensating them for workplace injuries. According to Occupational Safety, Health, and Environment (OSHE), a total of 1,196 construction workers lost their lives in workplaces between 2005 and 2016, and 147 of them died in 2016 alone. In 2017, the number of deaths increased to 179.
The construction workers were also the ones worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, as they hardly got any government or other assistance to feed themselves and their families in the past few months. Clearly, the sector is a neglected one when it comes to ensuring the workers’ rights and well-being. The Labour Act, unfortunately, covers only the formal sector and the construction sector, still being an informal one, does not get the necessary attention of the policymakers.
The situation must change and the government must bring them under a legal framework to ensure their occupational safety and compensate them for any injuries. For that, the Directorate of Labour, a regulatory agency under the labour ministry, should have a database of construction workers. The associations looking after the welfare of informal workers in the sector must also bring the issue of workplace safety to the fore. At the same time, the construction firms, big or small, must also prioritise their workers’ safety, which is in no way a privilege but a right of the workers.