Using safety gear, a costly affair

Lack of protective gear for workers can lead to immense danger. However, using it is not common in Bhutan especially due to the financial implications.

The Department of Labor (DoL) recorded 67 workplace accidents in the year 2017-18 and many went unreported. Fall from height (16.4%), failure in safety management and monitoring (16.4%), stuck by object (14.9%), and caught and pulled in by machines and equipment (14.9%) were found to be the leading causes of workplace accidents.

The construction sector saw the highest number of fatalities at 27 and 20 injuries in 2017-18. In 2016-17, 26 fatalities and nine injuries were reported in the construction sector. In 2013-18,60% of the accidents took place inthe construction sector.

“Most of the construction sectors are issued with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), however, this was limited to helmets and rubber boots,” said the Labor Officer, Department of Labor, Phuntsho Dendup. 

PPE is suitable personal protective equipment for protection of eyes, hands, head, and feet provided to construction workers, as per the Regulation on Occupational Health and Safety for Construction Industry, 2012.

On the financial implications, Phuntsho Dendup said the cost of workmen’s compensation alone account to Nu 6.64mn in 2015-2016.

While for every 1,000 workers, three workers were injured due to workplace accidents, he added.

“Workers’ health and safety are important aspects to protect business profitability and sustainability,” said Phuntsho Dendup.

Statistics also show that the construction sector received the highest improvement notice and penalty memo from the department. Seven penalty memos, six for not using PPE and one for non-payment of wages and 35-improvement notice, of which 21 were related to PPE were issued in 2017-18.

Sharing challenges of using PPE, Phuntsho Dendup said as most of the workers employed in the construction sector are outsourced from India they lack the practice of using it or feel uncomfortable using it.

Additionally, he said the construction sector gives low priority to safety and lacks competent people in the health and safety categories.

If the construction works are short term, it leads to financial burden for employers to purchase PPE and limited knowledge of workers in health and safety are also challenges, he pointed out.

A foreign construction worker in Thimphu, Safir Islam who has been working in the country since 2003 said about 95% of the construction workers do not use PPE.

He said the use of PPE adds discomfort while working adding that he said there were accidents of cuts by sharp edge, however he did not encounter a major accident.

Another foreign construction worker, Shazidul Bhushan said that at most of the construction works he did, he was not provided the PPE apart from his present workplace at Changzamtok and in Paro international Airport. He has been in the construction sector for seven years.

According to the department, lack of human resources and lack of mobility are the biggest challenges for conducting regular inspection visits among others.

According to Annual Report of Department of Labor, July 2017 to June 2018, 11,307 workers were recorded in the construction sector of which were 1,701 Bhutanese and 9,606 foreign workers.

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu