What our workers are exposed to

More than 50 participants attended the seminar to develop a better understanding on the importance of safety and health in construction sites and to provide the foundation of the knowledge about health in construction sites.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and works and human settlement ministry organized the event learn about the the implication of effective safety and health practices and its adaptation to construction sites in Bhutan.

During the event, some of the participants highlighted poor safety measures in construction sector. Hydropower construction sites reported the highest number of accident in the construction sector. Of the 55 reported cases, 33 were fatal cases and 22 were injuries in 2012 to 2015.

Building construction reported four fatal cases and two injuries whereas, road construction reported five fatal accident and two injuries.

This report was shared at a seminar on occupational health and safety (OHS).  Labour officer, Sonam Tashi said, “Department of labour has been encouraging people to report any injury occurring in the construction sites but most cases go unreported because the construction sector is concerned about being penalized.” He added that labour inspection report compiled annually recorded 12 cases of partial disability between 2015 and 2016.

He said that worker are found without safety belts, climbing weak scaffolding planks, using improvised power sockets and most of the construction sites are without safety nets for the safety of pedestrians.

A Public Health Engineering Division official, Karma Wangdi said that the workers are susceptible to diseases related to skin, respiratory, contact dermatitis and cancer. “If the workplace could minimize the chemicals, then the health care costs can be minimized,” he said. Informing the participants that joint diseases and cancer are increasing in the country.

He highlighted that 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 were reported last year.

The health ministry recorded more than 33,000 cases of the work-related injuries across the country last year and the department of Labour reported 26 fatal accidents and nine cases of partial disability between 2016 and 2017. The sector reported 21 fatal accidents in 2015 to 2016.

Workers are commonly exposed to asbestos, uncontrolled use in ferroalloy and ferrosilicon industries and benzene, uncontrolled use of chemical in printing press, said Karma Wangdi. He added that we are exposed to formaldehyde while using kerosene. Mercury is used by artisans and lead is used in paints.

Labour officer, Sonam Tashi said the department is challenged with the lack of human resources, lack of coordination among agencies and lack of support from employers and employees.

Work and human settlement minister, Dorji Choden said that 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 in critical,” she said.

The participants at the seminar recommended having OHS as an important requirement in the tender document.

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