Safety issues in focus, at last
Different government agencies and project authorities finally seem to be paying attention to safety regulations after five people were crushed to death by a girder of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Line-3 on Monday.
After the tragic incident due to gross negligence in ensuring safety, Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA) has issued directives to beef up safety at all its project sites.
Besides, Dhaka North City Corporation has called a meeting of all agencies implementing development projects in its areas.
In another development, the Road Transport and Highways Division, following media reports on Wednesday that the work of BRT project was still going on without maintaining proper safety measures, asked the authorities concerned yesterday to report on the matter.
It said the work will not resume until a safety plan submitted by the contractors is approved and in place.
The division also asked the chief engineer of Roads and Highways Department and the managing director of Dhaka Bus Rapid Transit Company Ltd, two of the four implementing agencies of the BRT project, to explain what caused the shocking incident.
These welcome developments came but only after deaths of five people including two children in the capital's Uttara.
A preliminary report of the government probe committee exposed negligence on the part of the Chinese contractor, China Gezhouba Group Co Ltd, its safety team and the crane operator.
Experts said the project authorities also cannot avoid responsibility.
In the absence of proper monitoring by implementing agencies, safety in a particular project mainly depends on how much emphasis the financier puts on safety issues, which in no way can be a proper process, experts and officials said.
In a country like Bangladesh, different government agencies take some piecemeal steps following a major incident, but those often fail to improve the situation due to a lack of sustainability. The solution lies in ensuring that the projects have in-built safety mechanisms, they said.
"The fact that the authorities concerned are taking steps to ensure safety after a major incident means their projects lacked safety measures in the first place," Prof Hadiuzzaman of Buet said.
"It can be said that safety issues were neglected in development projects," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
On Tuesday, DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam visited the site and asked officials to suspend the construction work, citing inadequate protective measures.
When a reporter on the spot asked why he was visiting the site only after the incident and what he had done to ensure safety at the project sites, the mayor claimed he had conveyed his concern to the project implementation authorities on several occasions but they did not pay heed.
After his visit, the DNCC called a meeting over safety at the project sites in its areas. The meeting was supposed to be held yesterday but was deferred to Sunday as yesterday was a public holiday.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA), which is implementing several projects, including Dhaka Elevated Expressway and Dhaka-Ashulia Expressway, has issued directives to step up safety at all project sites.
Quazi Muhammad Ferdous, chief engineer of BBA, issued written directives to all project chiefs on Tuesday.
"We have asked them [the project authorities] to follow international safety standards," Ferdous told The Daily Star yesterday.
Replying to a question, he said, "We have issued the directives after Monday's incident so that no such incident happens in our projects."
In February this year, a construction worker died when he suffered serious injuries while placing a girder of Dhaka Elevated Expressway project in the Tejgaon railway station area in Dhaka.
A major development project being implemented in Dhaka city is Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line-6, the first metro rail in the country. A pedestrian died after bricks fell on him at the construction site of the project in Pallabi area in May this year.
MAN Siddique, managing director of Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL), the implementing agency of metro rail projects, however, said regular safety measures are in place.
Asked about the death of the pedestrian, he said the man had entered the restricted area, which he should not have done, and that's why they had nothing to do here.
WHAT EXPERTS SAY
Prof Hadiuzzaman, also the director of Buet's Accident Research Institute, said project work on active roads in Dhaka city is very risky but there were no general work-zone safety guidelines until June this year.
The ARI, under a project of Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), has prepared such a guideline in June this year, which is still not in practice, he told this correspondent.
Prof Hadiuzzaman also said project safety in Bangladesh mainly depends on the financer.
"When the financier puts pressure on the authority over the safety issue, the implementing agency becomes active to ensure it. If the financier is not serious about it, the contractor and implementing agency becomes slack," he said.
He said a contractor is a business entity and it will try to optimise profits, so the implementing agency has a major role in ensuring safety through proper monitoring, but they had been lacking in here.
An additional chief engineer of Roads and Highways Department (RHD) said that for all major projects, there is a general safety plan, usually prepared by the contractor and approved by the consultants of the implementing agencies. The safety plan is also included in the contract.
Besides, the contractor is supposed to submit a work methodology to the consultants, who will approve it upon scrutiny before starting any major project work, the engineer said wishing not to be named.
Then, the contractor will send a "request for inspection" to the consultant. It also needs to be approved and the persons concerned are supposed to be present at the time of the inspection.
"These are the steps in a major project to be followed to ensure safety. But unfortunately, most of the officials of implementing agencies are either unaware of this process or nonchalant," he said, adding that they often depend on the consultant in this regard.
"The employer [the implementing agency] should at least monitor whether the consultants are discharging their duties properly. Unfortunately, the monitoring is not done properly," he added.
The engineer said there should be dedicated manpower to oversee the compliance issues.
SAFETY PLAN FIRST
BRT project authorities on Tuesday decided to suspend physical work of the entire project after the Asian Development Bank, the main financier, called for ensuring foolproof safety or suspension of work.
But different newspapers yesterday reported that physical work of the project continued on Wednesday in some parts without maintaining safety measures.
It prompted the Road Transport and Highways Division to write to the chief engineers of RHD and BBA and the managing director of Dhaka BRT Company Ltd to submit a report on this issue upon inspections.
Contacted, ABM Amin Ullah Nuri, secretary of the division, said the project authorities have verbally informed him that no construction work took place on Wednesday, rather some obstacles were removed from the project areas.
"The contractors have to submit a safety plan and get it approved by the authorities concerned. Only then the contractors would be allowed to resume work," he told The Daily Star last night.