Working sans safety net

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Bangalore, July 30; The city witnessed two accidents in two days at Namma Metro sites, one resulting in the death of a worker, the other on Monday injuring a motorist. While safety at the high-profile metro sites has been the subject of some review, from authorities as well as the High Court, in hundreds of construction sites across the city, safety measures are conspicuous by their absence.

Ask Ratnamma (32), a native of Bellary who works at a construction site on Magadi Road, and she’ll rattle away a long list of names of people she’s worked with who have been involved in accidents, big and small. “No one knows what happens behind these huge walls,” she says, pointing to the large tin sheets that shield the site and the happenings within. “Whenever there’s an accident, our contractor comes and tells us that if we talk to anyone outside, the entire lot will lose their jobs. This is how they threaten us into secrecy.”

Ms. Ratnamma claims she has worked at four construction sites over two years, three of them on Bannerghatta Road. She claims some of the bigger buildings offer harnesses and helmets, but this gear is always in short supply. “So we take the risk.”
Hushed up

At another smaller construction site nearby, men and women are seen toiling away on four levels of a three-storey building. Most of them refuse to take a break to talk to this reporter, as they say they are constantly “under observation”.

Ramesh (27) from Uttar Pradesh says six families work there for daily wages. Queried on safety measures, he points at a flimsy net hanging between the fourth and third floors; it’s not even hung out to serve its purpose. Mr. Ramesh laughs: “These nets can’t save us if we fall.”

He says there have been many accidents that he has seen (not at this site), and in each case it’s hushed up. “Before we can ask about it, the worker is given some money and taken elsewhere. Once, I heard from home that someone who lost function of their leg had reached my village with a compensation of Rs. 25,000. Of what use is that?”

When contacted, a top labour official said the Department of Labour conducted constant surprise checks at construction sites. “We have booked many builders for lack of safety.”

However, he points out that the Labour Department, which has 49 inspectors to inspect safety standards and labour violations across the city, is “hugely understaffed”. This means they were able to conduct only some checks and act on specific complaints.

“These 49 labour inspectors have to monitor enforcement of labour laws across sectors.”

It was also proposed earlier that the Department of Factories and Boilers (which currently deals only with construction sites involving budgets over Rs. 25 crore) be asked to depute engineers to monitor safety standards at construction sites.

An estimated 10 lakh construction workers are employed in Bangalore, while less than 85,000 are registered with the Karnataka Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board.

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