Thirty-year-old Manickam has been working as a construction worker for the past ten years; carrying bricks, operating heavy machinery, fixing air conditioners, painting, are all part of his daily routine. “Despite the risks involved in our job, our wages and living conditions are poor. I work for almost ten hours a day and to me, safety is of primary concern. Unfortunately, most construction sites only provide us with the basic equipment and working on great heights is always risky,” says Manickam even as he fixes an air conditioner on the third floor. Many migrant labourers who are employed in construction projects across the city face these problems on a daily basis. Thanks to large-scale infrastructure projects being planned in the city – Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) project, Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and the like – the city is home to a large number of migrant labourers too. However, along side development, the issue of sustaining the livelihoods of the migrants, ensuring their safety on-site, etc,need to be given enough attention.
In India, the construction sector employs around 33 million people, and the workers belong to one of the most vulnerable segments of unorganised labour in the country. Ensuring their safety is of prime importance, especially in large-scale Government projects such as the Metro Rail. Explaining the various measures undertaken to ensure worker safety, V Somasundaram, Chief General Manager (Construction), Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL), says, “Safety education and induction training is conducted for all workers and safety teams, safety supervisors are deployed on-site. Wearing safety helmets, shoes and waist jackets is compulsory before entering the site and workers are supposed to wear a safety harness while working at heights and in excavation areas. Regular mock drills are also conducted to help workers act in an emergency. Apart from regular site inspections every week, the equipment is also inspected from time to time.”
Workers employed in such construction projects are exposed to a wide variety of serious occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards and substances that can cause diseases such as asbestosis, silicosis, lead poisoning, etc. There is also a serious possibility of fires due to the storage and use of flammable substances and a high risk of disasters caused due to the collapse of structures and while working at great heights. The rate of fatal accidents in the construction industry is four to five times more than that in the manufacturing sector. (Courtesy: Godrej and Boyce Mfg Co Ltd). “Ensuring that even unskilled workers employed onsite are trained is essential. Over 1,000 to 2,000 workers are employed for large-scale projects and preventing injuries by installing safety nets, using scaffoldings, safety harnesses, helmets, boots, hard hats, ear muffs and safety glasses is mandatory. Also, providing workers with an insurance cover is beneficial,” says Suresh Jain, MD, Vijayshanthi Builders. Retd Colonel M Bhaskar, GM, Town and Country Project, Lancor Holdings, (which has an upcoming project in Sriperumbudur), says the identification of accidentprone areas onsite is important. “Using zebra tapes, reflectors and safety nets to make such areas inaccessible helps reduce the risk of on-site accidents. For instance, while constructing staircases and elevators, the areas should be barricaded. Also, contractors must ensure only trained personnel operate the machinery,” says Bhaskar.
As part of a detailed study on migrant labour conducted in the city by Asha, an NGO, it was found that over 3 lakh labourers were engaged in construction activities in Chennai and the districts of Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur alone. The report stated that workers were not provided with social security and basic amenities such as water, sanitation. Workers migrate from Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and nearby districts. Another issue highlighted in the study was that the provision in Buildings and other Construction Workers Act 1996 – which states that every accident resulting in fatality or injury must be reported to the State Labour Department – was not being implemented.
Complying with safety standards and certifications is another criterion most companies need to adhere to, in order to ensure the safety of workers. One such certification is the OHSAS 18001: Occupation Health and Safety Assessment Series for health and safety management systems. The certification is intended to help organisations control OHS risks. “The importance of managing OHS is recognised by contractors, developers, construction companies, regulatory agencies and other manpower intensive industries. The certification helps improve work safety and reduce the number of accidents as well,” says a representative at BMQR Certifications Pvt Ltd.
EQUIPMENT BEING USED IN THE CMRL PROJECT IN THE CITY
- Hydraulic grabs for diaphragm wall excavation.
- Piling rigs for excavation in rocky conditions.
- Tunnel boring machines for tunnelling.
- Grouting machines for ground treatment, Automatic concrete batching plants.
- Rock cutters for D-wall, Concrete boom placers.
- Mobile cranes, Boom trucks.
- Long boom excavators .
- Dumper, Concrete transit mixers.
Statistics Of Construction Industry –
Annual Turnover = Rs.3,921 Billion
Contribution To GDP = 6.2%
Employment = 33 Million Workers
Engineers = 4.7%
Technicians and Foremen = 2.5%
Skilled Workers = 73.1%
Annual Growth = 8%
**Source of data – Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC) Country Report 2005-2006.
Source – TOI