Serious injury or accidental deaths among construction workers comprise nearly half of all worker injuries in Kuwait. These are likely to rise as the country’s development plans kick into high gear in the coming few years. Lack of safety standards on site is the primary reason for Kuwait’s high accident rates, according to research.
This is borne out by a visual survey of construction sites in the country. Anyone passing most in progress construction sites will note the archaic methods of construction still in use, including wooden scaffolding, unsafe use of equipment, lack of hardhats or safety precautions among other dangers.
Many construction companies insist they follow safety rules and guidelines set by the ministry, but it is apparent many companies don’t. Some of them claim to embrace the idea of ‘safety first’, but the reality on the ground proves otherwise.
“We monitor workers every now and then, but sad to say very few of them are following orders,” said a foreman supervising a small under-construction building in Salmiya. “Before we start work, we always remind our workers to wear all necessary protective clothing for their safety. They do wear it, but during the course of work, they remove it. These are the people you see without wearing anything here,” said the supervisor, sounding disappointed.
Construction accidents are a frequent occurrence in various construction sites in Kuwait. Based on a case study by Dr. Hanouf M. Alhumaidi and F Hadipriono Tan, data collected from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shows that accidents are due to several factors including low education, language barriers, a lack of training and negligence of safety rules and standards set by the government.
“The data provided by MSAL accident due to fall is at 33.2 percent, it is the most frequent occurrence in the construction sites. 25.2 percent is due to being crushed by heavy object and the accident due to misuse of tools and equipments are third with 18.1 percent,” the report notes.
Most common injury in the construction accidents are bone fractures, 52.6 percent, wounds 17.5 percent and bruises 14.5 percent and only 0.8 percent are leading to deaths. Common accidents in the construction sites are due to a trench collapse, crane overturn and demolition accidents.
Wear safety gear
Failure to abide by safety standards, both at the firm’s level and the individual level, is a major factor in accidents at construction sites in Kuwait.
“We don’t receive any protective equipment or clothing. I work in the clothes I come to the site with. We don’t have any safety measures here,” an Indian laborer at a construction site who asked that his name be withheld told the Kuwait Times recently. According to the worker, he is paid KD 10 per day, and gets his payment weekly. “Sometimes we have to do overtime – that is also paid, so I make KD 350 to KD 400 a month. I pay KD 25 as rent and spend KD 30 on food and personal effects. Basically, most of my money is sent to my family,” said the man who is from Andhra Pradesh.
Some workers fail to use even the limited safety equipment provided.
“Yes, we have helmets and goggles, but I prefer to wrap a cloth around my head because it’s comfortable,” said another construction worker who spoke with this Kuwait Times reporter. “Yes, I have a helmet, but I don’t wear it because it’s heavy and gets hot. I develop a headache after wearing it, besides it slows down my movements,” agreed his colleague. Asked if the company has any policy of punishing violators, the foreman replied in the negative. “No, we don’t have such policies. I am tired of giving orders. What you see is not the company’s fault,” he asserted.
On site safety standards are usually specified in the contracts of parties involved and ironically, according to Al-Humaidi’s research, Kuwaiti safety standards, do not comply with international safety standards. “Lack of codes and standards that account for the current construction operations in Kuwait contribute to safety on Kuwaiti construction sites,” the report noted.
Failure to implement safety standards
A Filipino engineer who asked not to be identified said all construction companies in Kuwait have to follow certain rules required by the ministry prior to being granted building permits. “Standards are being followed, but it is true that in some instances, they can get building permits even without following safety rules. Wasta (influence) exists. I cannot prove it, but I have heard of many instances,” he said.
The engineer explained that every construction job site adopts safety regulations, involving stakeholders from owners to architects, contractors and insurance companies, and these have to be followed to safeguard Kuwait’s environment and the workforce.
“The main reason why the rules and safety standards are not followed by all stakeholders is because of a lack of proper implementation. Inspection teams are sent to the sites, but we do not know whether they are monitoring all cases. The penalty for violators is small, besides we have a much disorganized labor system. Some of the workers are hired from the streets, and there is extensive use of subcontractors too,” he added.
Kuwaiti municipality usually requires construction companies to contact the safety department when starting new projects for building permits and other issues. The department provides safety information regarding the proposed job or activity, and a safety representative conducts a site visit to ensure safe places for storage, temporary structures and services. Even safety posters are given to the contractor to be hung at the job site, but most of the time, those posters with regulations on them remain as decorative materials.
By Ben Garcia