Construction Week newsletter 2nd July 2005

It’s every project manager’s worst nightmare — a death on site caused by a construction accident. But it’s not only senior management that can be blamed for the deaths of site workers, as the case of Joy Joseph graphically illustrates.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  July 2, 2005

The price of blood money |~||~||~|It’s every project manager’s worst nightmare — a death on site caused by a construction accident. But it’s not only senior management that can be blamed for the deaths of site workers, as the case of Joy Joseph graphically illustrates. The 61 year-old cement plant operator was imprisoned after being held responsible for an accident, which resulted in the death of a co-worker. Joseph had been in charge of operating a cement plant in Dubai, when the accident occurred in October 2003. He had started up the machinery without knowing that a colleague had entered the drum to dislodge dried cement that had built up inside. Joseph claims that a warning switch that was intended to alert him to the presence of somebody inside the machinery, was faulty. Irrespective of where the real blame for this tragedy ultimately lies, it’s clear that the construction industry needs an insurance system in place to protect construction workers from being jailed for long periods of time. The blood money payable to the family of a victim in the UAE is AED200 000, but the average pay of a construction worker is around AED500 per month. Expecting site workers to somehow conjure up AED200 000 just isn’t realistic. It means that the average construction worker held responsible for the death of a co-worker would have to save every single dirham he earned for more than 33 years, in order to pay the fine. Joseph was lucky that a Dubai-based Indian worker welfare group came to his assistance and got him out of jail, where he would surely have remained for much longer. Construction is a dangerous business — even in countries where health and safety measures are applied much more rigorously than in the UAE, or the rest of the GCC, for that matter. Elsewhere, in European countries such as the UK (where a corporate manslaughter bill is currently being introduced), the recent trend has been to instill accountability all the way up the management chain — so that in theory at least, a chief executive can be held responsible for the death of a labourer on a site he has never even visited. But it seems that in the Middle East, the further down you are in the site pecking order, the more likely it is that you will be the one left carrying the can when an accident does happen. An industry-wide insurance scheme to protect construction workers from being thrown into prison for accidents that they may or may not have had any control over, has got to be worth serious consideration. ||**||

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