English | Dzongkha Monday, October 14, 2019

Workplace health, safety likely to become criteria for evaluating contractors

Phub Gyem, Thimphu
Dec 9, 2017

Very soon, the contractors in the country might have to prove their competency in one more area if they are to be awarded works by the Construction Development Board. That new area is work place health and safety standard. 

They will have to  convince the CDB that they not only care about health and safety of their workers but also actually practice it. Otherwise, they risk being denied projects.

At a workshop on health and safety of those working in the construction sector, the Department of Roads said contractors must maintain work place safety and health records. This, the department says, should be a criterion for evaluating contractors prior to awarding projects to them.

The move aims to ensure that the health and safety of those working in the construction industry is not ignored. At present, of the many registered contractors with the CDB, only a handful takes it seriously.

The Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL) is one among the few besides the JICA supported constructions. The CDCL is also among the few that has developed a guideline on the health and safety of their workers.

Labor ministry monitors the safety of employees in the construction sector. But due to lack of labor officers, the ministry hardly conducts site inspections. Also, it does not have trained and competent personnel.

However, as far as law pertaining to safety of workers is concerned, there is no dearth of it. “We have a  regulation on occupational health safety and welfare and we also have a separate regulation for construction industry,” said Sonam Tashi of the Department of Labor.

“We have been enforcing these regulations and the employment act not only in the construction sector but also in the private and corporate sectors.”

He shared that both employers and employees do not cooperate as purchasing safety equipment involves huge costs. But what they do not realize is that this could have adverse health implications for the workers in the long run.

The Programme Officer of the Department of Public Healtth, Karma Wangdi, says workers can be exposed to numerous hazards. “For instance, if the light is not sufficient, then that might pose hazard,” he said.

“Likewise, if the working environment is too noisy, even that poses hazard. If the workers are in environments where there are repeated wilding and hammering, that is also hazard. Most of the industries use chemicals, some of which are hazardous, and improper management can lead to development of respiratory diseases, which leads to cancer.”

The Chief Representative of JICA said there are a few areas where Bhutan can improve by adopting the best practices from Japan. In Japan, he shared that if the contractors fail to meet the required safety standards, they are not eligible to take part in the bidding process. “It’s a system of reward and punishment,” he said.

“We don’t expect local contractors to replicate the exact practice but by sharing some of the practices in Japan, we would like to create some kind of environment for all the stakeholders to take it seriously and discuss safety issues and management in every aspect of their future construction sites.”

The department of roads now plans to include safety and health management as an evaluation criterion. “When we evaluate contractors to award a work, one of the criteria is the contractor’s past performance,” said DoR’s Director Tenzin.

“When we rate the contractor’s past performance for which they get 10 marks, maybe we can include their safety record as one of the criteria for 10 points.”

Today, there are over 4,000 contractors registered with the Construction Development Board.

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