A look at safety in Uganda’s construction sites

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It is common knowledge, if it is not I am letting you know that the construction sector is probably the most hazardous place to work due to the complexity and nature of the activities involved most of which directly expose the workers to possible injury and infections of different types.

In the past, several accidents have been recorded at different construction sites across the country, with some causing serious injuries and even death. These accidents have involved falling walls, to collapsing structures as well as excavations burying site workers, all during construction activities. Some sites have also had incidents of workers falling during execution of works on higher heights above the ground.

There is therefore a need to investigate the measures that have been put in place to mitigate these occurrences and safeguard employees at construction sites as well as all other stakeholders against risks as far as their safety at the work place is concerned. This also includes their rights to compensation in case of accidents and injuries.

The extent to which law enforcement entities have engaged in ensuring that construction site staff and all stake holders involved are protected from construction related accidents and injuries also needs to be reviewed.

According to Part III – General Duties, Obligations and Responsibilities of Employers: Section 13 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2006, it is the duty of the employer to protect (his) workers. This involves taking all possible measures to ensure that the staff and public are free from danger and ensuring that the working environment is free from hazards.

It is therefore important for employers in the construction sector to understand their position and what is required of them with regards occupational health and safety. It is equally vital for staff to understand what is acceptable and isn’t, as far as their health and safety at the work place (construction sites) is concerned.

Occupational health and safety is concerned with prioritizing the health and safety of the staff engaged in the respective work activities but has not been given the due attention it requires and as a result, lives have been lost and valuable property has been destroyed in what could have been avoided.

Having been on different construction sites over the last four years, I have realized that not only do employers sometimes take lightly the health and safety issue at the sites, staff also do not consider their own safety as a priority.

This has been attributed to the fact that some of the safety gear is ‘bulky’ to have on all day and slows down their work. For example, hard hats (helmets) get really uncomfortable on hot days and gloves, according to them, make it difficult for them to work with certain tools to mention a few excuses.

Visitors to sites also often do not demand for this safety wear either due to ignorance about the conditions and code of conduct at the sites or because they simply do not care. As a result, since accidents are not planned or scheduled, these people are often caught off guard when disaster strikes and at the end of the day, injuries that could have been avoided are sustained.

Health and safety does not only apply to the site team or the visitors to the sites, but also to people who might be operating businesses or other activities near these sites. To begin with these people should be a reasonable distance away from the site, and the contractor or whoever is executing the construction should ensure that the site is exclusively sealed off by either use of hoarding, or even permanent perimeter walls.

Warnings and signs about the ongoing activities should be clearly displayed outside the site to eliminate chances of anyone claiming ignorance in case of a problem. Traffic in and out of the sites should be properly controlled; and another item that is commonly overlooked, pollution, especially air pollution kept to a minimum. And by all means, there should be a full time Health and Safety officer at every construction site.

Bearing all this in mind, I believe the bigger picture and goal should be to keep accidents on construction sites at the very minimum. Do we have the statistics regarding previous accidents? Yes we do. Have we learnt from these past mistakes? That is the problem; we seem to push each one of them under the rug as and when they occur.

We need to analyze past accidents to improve our understanding of the problem.

After all is said and done, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that proper health and safety guidelines are set at these sites and the necessary steps taken to ensure that the guidelines are strictly followed for the safety of everyone on and around the sites.

Jemima Nalumansi has a BSc. degree in Construction Management (Hons) from Makerere University in Kampala. She also holds a Post graduate diploma in Porject Planning and Management from Uganda Management Institute.