We are repeatedly reminded of the lack of safety standards at construction sites, yet we go on about ignoring even the basic requirements that we by law ought to meet at the workplaces. In case some of us have forgotten that there is something called Regulations on Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare, this regulation was developed by ministry of labour to ensure safety of the employees at workplaces from work-related hazards. The regulation applies to all types of employment except in farming.

The recent incident at Gol building in Phuentsholing was a stark reminder that we need to do more to consider safety at workplaces a priority. Thousands of work-related injuries are reported every year – upwards of 20 are fatal. Many go unreported. For instance, between 2016 and 2017, the construction sector reported 33,000 injury cases, 26 fatal accidents, and nine cases of partial disability. The numbers for 2018 are hard to come by.

Construction is perhaps the fastest growing sector in the country today. Building boom has picked paced not only in the bigger population centres, but also in the semi-urban areas and beyond. What is all too visible, though, is that nowhere are occupational health and safety (OHS) standards observed seriously. Regular seminars are conducted, but they can do only so much. Sometimes, participation at OHS seminars and conferences leaves a lot to be desired. The recent seminar that Japan International Cooperation Agency and human settlement ministry organised saw only about 50 participants. Routine inspection, awareness programmes and training do not seem to help.

Officials tell us that mishaps in Bhutan can be related to difficult terrain. We beg to differ. The problem is one of weak implementation of rules and regulations giving way to complacency. Working in a vulnerable work environment increases hazard risks. However, preventive measures can help reduce them. It is, therefore, critically important to inspire safety-first culture in our construction industry where everyone involved is fully aware of the benefit of risk reduction in workplaces.

Recognising that fostering or developing a culture takes time and earnest effort, recommendations like making OHS as an important requirement in the tender document and adopting and mainstreaming of good and essential construction standards and practices must be taken in.