June 7, 2011

Worker safety take-up slow


WORKING conditions in Cambodia’s  construction industry show few signs of improvements despite regulations introduced earlier this year, according to industry experts.

Four prakas, or edicts,  were introduced by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training in March setting standards for onsite issues such as working conditions, sanitation and waste disposal.

The initiative to improve health and safety at the Kingdom’s construction sites is welcomed, though there is little evidence the rules have been widely adopted, Cambodia National Federation of Building and Wood Construction President Sok Sovandeith said yesterday.

“According to my observations, everything remains the same. I have seen no changes since the prakas were issued,” he said.

“Construction companies are still failing to provide good working environments and safety equipment like boots, hard helmets, gloves and safety harnesses.”

He called on the government authorities and particularly private companies to ensure health and safety laws are adhered to, in order to reduce the “unacceptably high rate of deaths and injuries among construction workers.”

Large numbers of workers are injured on a daily basis throughout Cambodia, though no concrete figures are available, according to Sok Sovandeith.

“We don’t know the exact figures because the construction companies hide them,” he claimed.

The four prakas on occupational health and safety in the construction industry came into effect on March 30, though some industry players told The Post they were not aware of them until recently.

“I received a copy two weeks ago, and that was from the Australian Business Advisory Council, prior to this, I was not aware of the prakas,” said regional mechanical and electrical company CPS Group Asia’s Cambodia Manager Dougall McMillan.

He said the firm wholly supports and follows the regulations, but added he expects difficulties in implementing them at a grass-roots level.

“This is the first step in the right direction, but the potential for it to be ignored is the same as other directives,” he said.

“Enforcement needs to begin at the company level in order for the prakas to be successful nationwide.”

Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training of State Spokesman Huy Hang Song said that cooperation from individual construction companies is essential to ensure the rules are being followed.

Employers who fail to respect the regulations risk serious punishment, he said. However, he didn’t specify details on what the punishments would entail.

It is the duty of employers to provide workers with a safe and healthy working environment and also accept responsibility for work-related accidents that may occur, he said.

“If they are not involved in accidents, labourers can work and earn good incomes, allowing them to further support their families.”

He added the rules were not highly technical, but designed to ensure construction workers were protected and sites made secure.

Lao Tip Seiha, Director of the Department of Construction at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, acknowledged worker protection is necessary, but said it was a matter for separate ministries and the construction sector to implement.

The construction sector currently employs between 37,500 and 40,000 workers, he said. Unskilled workers earn an average of US$5 per day and skilled workers can expect around $10 to $15, while architects and engineers command a monthly salary between $600 and $1200.

The sector also requires additional labour, he said.

“We are currently lacking construction workers because the construction sector has grown this year,” he said.

Previous data shows Ministry construction approvals more than doubled in the first quarter 2011 compared to the same period last year, with $324 million worth of projects receiving approval.

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