Unrealistic targets and cost-cutting measures make construction sites deadly: NGO

Part of the formwork at the construction site of a family entertainment centre near Palawan Beach, Sentosa, which collapsed on Jan 29, 2014. Excessive workloads, cost-cutting measures and unrealistic work targets are making construction sites th
Part of the formwork at the construction site of a family entertainment centre near Palawan Beach, Sentosa, which collapsed on Jan 29, 2014. Excessive workloads, cost-cutting measures and unrealistic work targets are making construction sites the deadliest workplaces here, said non-governmental organisation (NGO) HealthServe in a report submitted to the Ministry of Manpower. -- PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

SINGAPORE - Excessive workloads, cost-cutting measures and unrealistic work targets are making construction sites the deadliest workplaces here, said non-governmental organisation (NGO) HealthServe in a report submitted to the Ministry of Manpower.

In its report available online, the NGO noted that there were 12 deaths at construction sites in the first quarter of 2014 alone, out of a total of 19 deaths at workplaces.

"The fatality rate in the construction sector is triple the overall workplace injury fatality rate", which stands at seven per 100,000 employed persons in 2013, said the NGO.

HealthServe's report was completed in August and authored by researcher and case worker Stephanie Chok, who interviewed 20 construction workers from China between January and June.

The interviewees consistently pointed out excessive productivity targets, with some revealing that their supervisors would refuse to pay them for the full number of hours worked if they did not meet the targets set for them.

"Working at such speeds - and with few rest breaks - takes it toll on focus and attentiveness," wrote Ms Chok.

She also noted in the report that an increased pace of work was frequently accompanied by diminishing resources or a reduced headcount.

In some cases, cost-cutting resulted in weaker scaffoldings with fewer rungs for workers to attach their safety harnesses, which increased the risk of accidents.

Construction worker Zhu (not his real name), for instance, fell 2m to the ground and lost consciousness when the scaffolding he was on was hit by a forklift. His safety harness had not been secured as there were no rungs to clip it to.

Ms Chok said in the report that the NGO hopes to contribute to shaping the discourse on workplace safety by highlighting under-examined factors that make worksites risky for construction workers.

The report also highlights that worksite safety campaigns here tend to place the onus on workers to ensure accidents do not happen.

"This negates the genuine fear and disempowerment many workers in hazardous situations feel daily at their worksites where a 'twist of fate', such as a collapsed crane, falling concrete slab or metal pipe could mean permanent disability or death," she wrote.

The report can be found at:

http://webboe.com/websysdocs/HSPAPER_RiskyBusiness_FINAL1_SEP_2014.pdf