Standardising the usage of construction safety gear by workers in Phuentsholing could take a few more years.

Construction workers in most construction sites in the commercial hub can be observed working without any of the required safety gear.

At a government construction site yesterday, construction workers had hung their safety gear and equipment on window bars. Not a single worker had on a construction hard hat or safety helmet.

Only after this newspaper asked why no one was wearing their safety gear, the workers hurried to put on their hard hats which had been discarded all over the construction site.

Similarly, in other private construction sites, construction workers were seen standing on bamboo scaffolding without helmets or safety harnesses.

On March 8, an expatriate worker died after falling off a building he was working on. The contractor of the building has not reported to the labour office yet.

A site engineer on a construction site in Phuentsholing, Purnima Tamang said that they provide safety gear such as gumboots, helmets, gloves, and jackets.

“We told our labourers to use the gear,” she said, adding that labour officials had also briefed the labourers about safety and the penalties for not using the safety gear.

However, the site engineer said that the labourers are not used to using safety gear. The engineer pointed out that the labourers argue that they are not comfortable wearing safety gear.

Ensuring worker safety in construction areas is one of the major challenges the regional labour office is facing in Phuentsholing.

Labour’s regional director in Phuentsholing, Sonam Tenzin, said that most labourers are not willing to use safety gear. “But there are some employers who think of the direct cost in procuring safety equipment,” he said.

“They do not think about the future consequences.”

Sonam Tenzin also said that it is better to invest on safety equipment than to later pay penalties or risk a fatal accident.

The labour office also carries out awareness programmes in Phuentsholing. Construction sites and workplaces have safety signs in place. At present the labour office team is assessing occupational health standards in Chukha.

Sharing his experience, a private contractor Anand Pradhan said that although construction firms provide safety gear and advise employees to use it, the advice is ignored and the gear remains unused.

The contractor said workers complain that the hot temperature is not suitable for using hard hats and gloves.

From 2016 until now, about 11 accidents have been reported in the Phuentsholing (including Samtse) region.

In Phuentsholing, two deaths have been reported in the past year with the most recent occurring on March 8.

According to the Labour Act 2007, an employer shall provide and maintain a working environment for employees that is safe and without risk to health. An employer shall provide accident compensation for all the employees.

As per the Act, an employer shall immediately notify the chief labour officer in the event of death of an employee due to an accident at work. If the employer fails, the employer will be liable to pay a fine of a maximum of one year’s daily national minimum wage rate.

Further, if an employee dies, compensation has to be provided. The employer has to pay the national wage rate for 1,080 days and 70 percent of one year’s basic salary.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing