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Wednesday 28.06.2017 | Name days: Kitija, Viesturs, Viestards

Work safety at a construction field: problem, myth or unnecessary extra

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe matter of work safety in construction remains a topical and complex matter. One of the examples is the construction process of Kekava primary school, in relation to which residents have voiced serious concerns for the safety of the people at work there. Construction firm Abora, meanwhile, says there is nothing to those rumours, and that those are merely «foolish words» coming from dissatisfied workers.

BNN decided to dig into this matter.

The second stage of the construction process of Kekava primary school commenced in January 2015. After all the necessary documents and technical specifications were prepared, a tendering process was announced for the third stage of the construction process.

Abora won the tender. This company was also responsible for the previous two stages of the construction process. The contract was signed by Kekava City Council Chairman Andis Damlics and Abora board member Juris Kravalis on 18 August 2015, according to information available on the website.

BNN has since acquired photos from Kekava residents, showing that workers at the construction field have insufficient equipment. On top of that, workers themselves have expressed serious concerns about their own safety when working there.

To find out more, BNN contacted one of the construction workers. He provided his opinion about work conditions there.

At the beginning of the conversation, the man expressed a very clear position, saying: «I don’t feel safe there. No one really thinks about us and our safety.»

When asked what kinds of risks are present, the man replied: «First of all there is the risk of falling off the roof. I work on the roof, and it is high enough for me to put my life at serious risk every day. You need stairs to climb to and from the roof, but we don’t even have those.»

Abora’s representative Atis Melngalvis says his company is not responsible for that, because in accordance with construction regulations, each worker is responsible for his or her safety at work. In this case, responsibility for construction work of Kekava Primary School lies with Abora’s subsidiary Reserv Inc.

«Abora as the head engineer is responsible for fencing off the territory to prevent unauthorized people from entering the construction field, as well as fencing off the road people use to move around. The company is responsible for general safety. Abora also secure drinking water and ensure fire safety,» Melngalvis told BNN.

He adds that the company is very serious about work safety. «Construction objects are monitored. There are journals in which violations are recorded. So work monitoring is performed,» Melngalvis continues, adding that there is also security in place to ensure unauthorized people do not enter.

To find out who is responsible for work safety at construction fields, BNN contacted the State Labour Inspectorate.

The inspectorate explains its answer by referring to Cabinet Requirements Nr.372 Labour Protection Requirements When Using Personal Protective Equipment. According to point 21 of requirements, the employer has specific duties that must be performed.

It is important to mention that no one other than the employer is responsible for labour safety and compliance with relevant regulations, as reported by the inspectorate.

In addition, SLI emphasizes that after surveying environmental risks, labour protection specialist has to develop specific measures to prevent risks, such as the risk of labourers falling off a roof.

In its written explanation, Reserv Inc. commented the situation at the construction field in Kekava – «risk assessment has been performed there, a work safety plan has been developed, employees have been presented with risk assessment results and work safety plan and have confirmed their knowledge of it with a signature in the journal/document».

When asked to comment photos and concerns voiced by residents and workers about the situation at the construction field, Reserv Inc. said: «Workers have been provided with elements of individual protection – work helmet, work boots, appropriate apparel, gloves and safety harness for work at high altitudes. Employees have been trained in the use of safety elements, their maintenance and storage. In accordance with European and Latvian requirements, safety harnesses must comply with CE standards that guarantee all safety requirements. Reserv Inc. uses only appropriate equipment with full accordance with requirements.»

Unfortunately, employees could not confirm whether or not the company has provided them with the necessary safety elements. According to information provided to BNN, neither work gloves nor work boots in sufficient amount have been issued to workers. ‘Once a week we’re supplied with three pairs of gloves for ten workers,’ said one interviewed construction worker.

The company has only issued work helmets.

It is also important to mention that, in relation to work on the roof, an anonymous source says a person cannot stay on the roof without a safety harness, «but the harness is not safely attached to a rope».

«Management wants workers to use a safety harness, but what’s the point in it if there is no rope to ensure the worker does not fall to his death. The answer is simple, really – work if you want to, or don’t,» said one anonymous worker.

BNN found out that one worker was seriously injured during work. The young man refused to comment this situation, however.

Abora’s representative commented the situation as an accident that is not related to equipment, saying that the man in question was aware of the necessary safety precautions. «This was an unfortunate accident. They happen. People sometimes cut their fingers, trip and fall over. This is what is usually called an accident.»

As for the necessary activities in the event of an accident at a construction field, SLI explains: if an accident takes place at a construction field, the employer must comply with Cabinet Requirements Nr.950 Procedures for Investigation and Registration of Accidents at Work.

The worker was asked if, before starting work, he had signed a document to confirm he is authorized to be at the construction field. The man told BNN that he has not signed any papers during his time working there. «No one even informed us of work safety regulations. In other companies employees are obligated to listen to a lecture about safety and sign a paper to confirm they are aware of the rules.»

When asked about this, SLI responded the following way: the employer is not allowed to permit workers to commence work without first going through a safety lecture and confirming their awareness with a signature in a relevant document.

Although BNN had contacted Abora and had mentioned complaints voiced by workers and residents alike, upon arriving at the construction field after two weeks, BNN journalists found that the situation had not changed at all – workers still did not have the appropriate safety equipment.

Reserv Inc. mentioned in its response: «Following your complaint, the company has since rectified all problems, performed an in-depth lecture with workers about safety and mandatory use of safety harnesses.» Workers, however, deny having been provided with any talks or lectures on work safety.

Sandris Liepins, manager of Inspecta Latvia Construction Department, comments the situation in the construction industry: «Legislation has rather big holes in relation to construction work procedures.»

«The construction work plan must provide clear details about the order and criteria used for each type of work. The plan is used to clearly demonstrate to the construction work manager which quality criteria have to be followed. Of course, the plan only works if it was not prepared using copy/paste method. In case of the latter, the document is promptly put in the trash and the project itself is left unsupervised,» Liepins said.

He notes that such a situation is particularly dangerous if there is a less-experienced work manager or a construction project of a certain complexity, when it is highly important to follow strict order and guidelines. On top of that, manufacturers tend to have different requirements for work using their manufactured materials. «Unfortunately, often we see a situation when a person picks up a welding apparatus and uses it how he thinks it should be used,» construction engineer Liepins comments on the situation.

An anonymous construction worker also has an opinion about the situation in Latvia’s construction industry: «I think there are a lot of holes in construction in general, not just where I work. I need work, so I try to be careful, but no one is really safe from accidents. As I’ve said before, you have choice – either to climb to the roof or don’t. Either way there is no shortage of people wanting to work.»


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