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Buildings built on graveyards

Frequent and often deadly accidents that befall workers on Thai construction sites demonstrate the urgent need for tighter safety laws

Ten workers were killed and 16 others injured on Tuesday in Samut Prakan's Bang Phli district when a concrete structure at a construction site collapsed.

Some 30 workers were sitting eating lunch when the floor of an elevated corridor being built above them broke in two and fell to the ground.

While our architects often come up with great ideas for how their buildings should look and function, too little thought goes into safety standards for the people who actually build them.

Some of those killed were workers from Cambodia and Myanmar. The youngest was 15. Six died at the scene, while four others succumbed to their injuries in hospital. The workers were likely breadwinners for their families.

As usual, various parties expressed shock and vowed to investigate what went wrong in a bid to avert a repeat of such a deadly accident. Financial compensation has been promised to the injured and the families of the dead.

To say that the incident underscores Thailand's problem with construction-site safety would be an understatement. Time and again we hear news of such accidents. And it is always followed by a slew of proposals made by experts, from better labour rights to stronger safety measures. Meanwhile contractors are seldom penalised for mishaps and accidents on construction sites.

The fact that these accidents continue to occur with such frequency indicates that the potentially life-saving advice falls on deaf ears. As the memory of a tragedy fades, the public pressure to close safety loopholes dies down and construction workers go back to sites that remain death traps.

Billboards outside the sites declare "Safety First", but a quick glance through the gates is usually all you need to see that basic safety measures are not being enforced or followed.

Many workers go without hardhats and few even have the protection of steel-toed work boots or protective gloves and clothing. This is not to say that such basic items will prevent accidents. But if the construction companies won't fund and enforce these basic measures, one has to wonder how much they care about the safety of their workers. "Get the building built in time - and by any means necessary," seems to be the thinking of many managers.

Thai authorities and policymakers need to review construction-related laws and regulations. We need laws that do away with the quick-fix approach, which is costing lives all over the country. The notion that one accident is one too many needs to be implanted in our hearts and minds if we are to do this right.

Part of our complacency stems from the fact that society looks down on construction work as a form of employment, since it's often taken up by cheaper migrant labourers from neighbouring countries. On this note, we need to ensure that foreign construction workers receive the same treatment and rewards as their Thai counterparts. After all, it is their cheap labour that helped Thailand grow into an industrialised country. Treating them as equals is the least we owe them.


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