Just when we thought it was safe

A tragic reminder of the importance of safety

Although accidents are in decline, a report estimates that, in Abu Dhabi alone, 36 contractors covering 479 projects reported 530 lost-time incidents
Although accidents are in decline, a report estimates that, in Abu Dhabi alone, 36 contractors covering 479 projects reported 530 lost-time incidents

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There is no such thing as a 100% safe construction site. Anybody who tells you otherwise is kidding themselves.

The industry has worked hard to ensure that we expect that everything possible has been done to ensure they don’t happen. This change in attitude from indifference to an imperative, has raised safety standards and expectations. Most importantly it’s saved lives.

Unfortunately a week December reminded us of times when tragic accidents were not rare but almost a daily occurrance.

In Saudi Arabia, five men were killed when some scaffolding collapsed on the BP 10 site under construction in the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh.

Again in the KAFD, three workers plunged to their deaths from 30 stories up in an elevator in a high-rise building under construction.

A week earlier, two workers on the Downtown Dubai development died after the crane they were using to fix an exterior glass plane came loose and fell to the ground.

The accident occurred in full daylight at 4.30pm while the two men were doing cladding work on the 27th floor on one of the buildings that form the Boulevard Plaza at the Downtown Dubai development.

While the exact cause of the accident is still being investigated, the Dubai Police has published a statement saying that it believed that the men’s cradle had “lost balance”. The National newspaper reported that a source had added that: “the side winch of the cradle they were using ‘had failed’”.

Police photography suggests that the men were wearing hard hats and safety harnesses, although it is still unclear whether they had been properly attached.

The two men, both from India, were employed by Emaar subsidiary, Multiforms, which won the contract for cladding work on the Boulevard Plaza for $40.8 million from the Samsung Corporation in 2007. The contractor has confirmed that the workers will be repatriated and that the site will be shut for a day.

Area developer Emaar, said: “We regret to report the death of two employees of a private company, who were working for one of the contractors on a project under construction in Downtown Dubai. The concerned authorities are currently investigating the incident. We extend our sincere condolences to their families.”

Within hours of the news hitting the Construction Week news website, reaction to the tragedy was a mixture of sadness, anger that the accident had happened and condemnation of contractor and worker practices.

“On site operational inspections need be more stringent to avoid such incidents. It’s a common feature that the cladding contractor installs temporary cradles that are anchored/supported at roof terrace and follows up with the cladding works,” wrote one reader from the UAE.

“The cladding works in itself being a part of permanent works is inspected carefully. It’s left to the contractor to ensure that the temporary cradles are installed properly in most cases.

“More stringent measures need be put in place especially on operational works of temporary nature.”

While the exact cause of the accident is still being investigated, the Dubai Police has published a statement saying that it believed that the men’s cradle had “lost balance”.

The National newspaper quoted a source who said that, “the side winch of the cradle they were using ‘had failed’”.

Police photography suggests that the men were wearing safety harnesses and hard hats, although it is still unclear whether they had been properly attached.

PMV magazine understands the case was passed onto the CID section of the local police force soon after the incident happened on the 30 November.

The National newspaper reported that Colonel Ali Ghanem, the director of Bur Dubai Police Station, confirmed, “the detained contractors would face charges of negligence leading to death.”

“The scaffolding would only have collapsed if health and safety regulations were not followed, but the exact cause is yet to be determined by the Dubai Municipality report.”

The contractors and subcontractors involved in the development that have been detained were not named by police.

Samsung-Baytur JV, the contractor on the Emaar-owned project, did not make an official statement but did state to The National that it was “working with authorities to release the bodies pending the investigation”.

PMV understands that Emaar subsidiary Multiforms had earlier confirmed that it had employed the two men and said that it would ensure the bodies of the workers were repatriated. Multiforms is subcontracted to handle the cladding work on the site where the men died.

According to The National report a source had said “the workers had been carrying out preparatory work required for the installation of glass panels on the building’s façade”.

“It was a mechanical failure; the boom is intact,” said the source. “The entire platform or cradle fell. The men were wearing safety belts and helmets but it came crashing down. They didn’t stand a chance.”

A labourer on the site reportedly told The National: “This is our job. Sometimes it is dangerous. But it’s good the police are checking; at least other workers will be safe. We keep thinking of the families of those two men. How many children did they have? What will they do now?”

The National also reported that Abu Dhabi has introduced regulations that mean that construction will only be able to begin on site once safety standards have been satisfied.

The initiative includes a manual with safety guidelines for contractors. However there are concerns that the moves don’t go far enough to cover issues with workers understanding those guidelines.

Given the complexity and size of many projects, unfortunately there really are no fast and easy solutions to the problem of health and safety. But at least this sounds like progress.

The official investigation in Dubai could take weeks or months to process, so it will remain some time before the actual reason why the men died becomes clear. In the meantime old questions about the safety practices on sites are being raised again.

Contractors owe it to their workers ask how well they can answer them.

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