26 fatal accidents and nine cases of partial disability were reported between 2016 and 2017

The health ministry recorded more than 33,000 cases of work-related injuries across the country last year.

However, the construction sector reported 26 fatal accidents and nine cases of partial disability to the Department of Labour between 2016 and 2017. Between 2015 and 2016, the sector reported 21 fatal accidents.

This was shared at a seminar on occupational health and safety (OHS) yesterday in Thimphu.

The event was to develop a better understanding on the importance of safety and health in construction sector.

Labour officer, Sonam Tashi, said that labour inspection report compiled annually recorded 12 cases of partial disability between 2015 and 2016.

He added that Department of Labour has been encouraging people to report any injury occurring in the construction sector. “But most cases go unreported maybe because the construction sector is concerned about being penalised.”

Between 2012 and 2015, hydropower construction sites reported the highest number of accidents in the construction sector. Of the 55 reported cases, 33 were fatal cases and 22 were injuries.

Building construction reported four fatal cases and two injuries while road construction reported five fatal accidents and two injuries.

Sonam Tashi said that in Bhutan, workers are found without safety belts, climbing weak scaffolding planks, using local made power sockets, and construction sites not using safety nets for the safety of pedestrians.

He said that safety assessment has been conducted in the country since 2014 and recommendations were made. “If they perform better, we even reward during the world safety day.”

Last year, 33,331 work-related injuries were reported in the country, an increase of 2,526 cases from 2015.

A Public Health Engineering Division official, Karma Wangdi, said that workers are susceptible to diseases related to skin, respiratory, contact dermatitis and cancer.

He added that joint diseases and cancer cases are increasing in the country. “If the workplace could minimise the chemicals, then the health care costs can be minimised.”

In 2016, a total of 10,572 cases of joint diseases called arthritis and arthrosis were reported in the country. More than 98,000 cases of musculoskeletal disorder (injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement) were reported last year.

Karma Wangdi said that workers in Bhutan are commonly exposed to asbestos, uncontrolled use in ferroalloy and ferrosilicon industries and benzene, uncontrolled use of chemical in printing press. “We are exposed to formaldehyde while using kerosene. Mercury is used by artisans and lead is used in paints.”

In other countries, a separate occupational health service is provided for occupational health hazards. However, in Bhutan, the occupational health services is integrated with general health services.

Department of Labour conducts routine inspection every year for different sectors. The department also conducts awareness programmes and trainings for enterprises on the importance of OHS.

However, Sonam Tashi said that the department is challenged with lack of human resource, lack of coordination among agencies and lack of support from employers and employees.

Works and human settlement minister, Dorji Choden, said that although documented information isn’t available in the country, accidents and injuries take place at the worksite. “Bhutan faces different challenges given our difficult terrain. It shouldn’t be just about what the legal provision dictates. The concept of corporate social responsibility beyond the traditional framework of client contract relation is critical.”

The participants at the seminar recommended having OHS as an important requirement in the tender document. Hiring safety equipment to the enterprise by the executing stakeholders was also recommended.

More than 50 participants attended the seminar that Japan International Cooperation  Agency and works and human settlement ministry organised.

Phurpa Lhamo