Thinley Namgay

Of the 33,000 reported work-related injuries in 2017, more than 80 percent were from the construction project sites and the industrial estates. The sector also saw 26 fatalities and nine cases of partial disabilities between 2012 and 2015.

Some of the hazards in construction sites are working at height, moving objects, slips trips and falls, airborne fibres and materials, electricity, noise and manual handling.

Construction Development Board (CDB) would now collaborate with labour ministry’s Department of Labour (DoL) and institute safety officer for large and medium construction firms.

This is in accordance with the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two agencies on January 31 to enhance collaboration for enforcement and implementation of regulations of occupational health and safety (OHS) at construction sites.

CDB and DoL would also develop the capacity of safety officers, conduct health assessment in construction firms, sharing information about OHS, conduct safety seminars and workshops, and review construction rules and regulations.

The MoU was signed at the daylong workshop on construction safety themed ‘health and safety is a collective responsibility: strategies for collaborative enforcement’.

Labour minister, Ugyen Dorji, said that construction industry is an important economic sector that contributes to the socio-economic development of the country by building infrastructure and providing job opportunities.

He, however, said that the industry has hazardous working environment where workers are prone to work-related accidents resulting in disabilities and deaths.

“The probability of fatality in construction industry is five times more than in manufacturing industry,” he said.

Lyonpo said that in 2016, International Labour Organisation estimated that of all the work place accidents, about 30 percent of fatal accidents occur at construction sites. “Similarly, construction industry in Bhutan accounts for 60 percent of total work place accidents in the country.”

He said that even after more than a decade of advocating on OHS, there are issues with implementation of the rules and regulations by relevant agencies.

CDB’s director, Phub Rinzin, said contribution to the economy by the construction sectors are 14.2 percent of GDP as per the National Statistic Bureau report 2018.

Meanwhile, participants raised concerns on safety measures.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) representative, Kozo Watanabe, said they conducted three safety seminars in collaboration with MoWHS and MoLHR along with relevant agencies in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

He said JICA is currently helping on counter-measures of slope disaster on roads in Bhutan like bioengineering at Lobesa, countermeasures against rockfall at Trongsa, and countermeasures against debris in Trongsa.

JDWNRH’s audiologist, Pelden Wangchuk, expressed his concerns on hearing sensitivity as a result of the constant noise exposure at construction sites.  “Worldwide, 16 percent of hearing loss is attributed to occupational noise ranging from 9-22 percent in various sub regions.”

He said that OHCSP conducted a study on the prevalence of occupational noise induced hearing loss (ONIHL) among the industrial workers in Bhutan with technical support from the national referral hospital and MoLHR recently. “Of the 1,638 workers screened from nine establishments, 27.90 percent reported of ONIHL prevalence. The highest was at wood-based industry with 38.94 percent.”

A clinical physiologist, Dr Phurba, said that respiratory problems are also associated with construction sites. “We have done research among 3,508 workers from different industries and 68 percent of the working groups are between 18-39 years who are vulnerable to respiratory problems.”