Construction Safety Standards Still Poor

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Despite the boom in Phnom Penh’s construction sector, the standard of worker conditions in the industry typically remains low. Colin Rogers of Lighthouse Club Phnom Penh delves into the lax safety standards that blights the Cambodian construction industry – and the legislation that could improve them.

The Lighthouse Club Phnom Penh is part of the international group that offers financial support to relatives of construction workers afflicted by work-related death, illness or injury. During his time as the chairman of Lighthouse Club Phnom Penh, Colin Rogers has witnessed an unsettling number of avoidable injuries and fatalities due to a lack of safety regulations related to construction work. Health and safety policies do exist within many companies in the Kingdom, and laws pertaining to construction site regulations are purportedly pending. However, as Rogers has discovered through his experience in the industry, this does not necessarily translate to the enforcement of such rules. Consequently, those wishing to develop a business involving construction within the Kingdom should consider the complications currently surrounding worker insurance in this area, and the degree to which it can be monitored and controlled by business owners.

Having been involved in worker safety for the last 40-45 years in industries all over the world, Rogers believes one of the major concerns within Cambodia in this field is the lack of implementation of safety standards in construction. “Cambodia has a very poor record with regard to health and safety on construction sites,” he says. “Even on sites that purport to support health and safety, and have notices, I go onto those sites and I see they’re not being upheld. Half the companies that say they have a health and safety policy don’t have anyone to implement them.”

“You can see people working at heights with no harnesses, helmets or safety shoes. The equipment is available but the workers choose not to use it,” Rogers adds. “There are countless accidents which could and should be avoided.”

Moreover, according to Rogers, many construction companies fail to even supply the equipment needed to enforce the standards they claim to have in place. “Most contractors do not supply half the safety equipment because of costs,” he says.

Another problem Rogers continues to encounter during his time working with TheLighthouse Club Phnom Penh is that very few construction companies supply worker insurance. This is further complicated by the fact that many workers do not register under their real name, so even if it were available, applying for insurance for these workers would be unfeasible. “Many workers live on site working under a false name, which makes it very difficult for us to help the injured or the families of the dead,” Rogers explains. “Because the workers are not registered, nobody knows their next of kin. They sleep on the site, eat on the site, and no-one knows who’s who. It’s a bit of a nightmare. It’s very frustrating for us.”

A potential new regulation is currently under discussion, which, if passed, would enforce strict safety standards within the construction industry. While this would clearly be a positive step towards increasing worker safety, Rogers remains apprehensive over the likelihood of its execution. “There was a paper issued late January, which is equivalent to a British White Paper. It’s a discussion paper which will hopefully become law before the ASEAN laws kick in in December. I’m not sure where it’s at at the moment. It can only be for the good, and the relatively small cost is well worth it.” Rogers adds, “But even if the legislation is passed, getting implementation won’t be easy unless the government supplies a lot of inspectors to check and create heavy fines for people who don’t comply.”