CRUSHED BY THE WEIGHT OF ANXIETY

28 June 2018 12:10 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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High-rise building culture leaves Colombo community helpless

 

 

Colombo’s skyline is rapidly changing with various high rise buildings being constructed in every nook and corner of the city. While almost all of them compete to get the best view of the Indian Ocean and the city, it is rather questionable as to how certain logistical matters could be sorted out. As a country where a good part of the population comprises senior citizens and differently-abled persons, vertical living may not be the best option. When leaving that aside, how residents could escape during a fire or a similar emergency too brings about a question mark. In its fast-track towards development, the safety and health of the people too needs to be considered. People working at these sites sometimes have minimum facilities and working conditions, hence they may do things bordering on carelessness due to exhaustion. Various high-rise buildings constructed within the city have now eaten into the pavements, causing much traffic and parking issues. In this issue, the safety of the pedestrians may also have been overlooked. In an attempt to shed light on this trending menace, the Dailymirror spoke to a few individuals of varied expertise.

 

 

Airing her concerns with regard to the occupational safety and health aspect, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Director General Dr. Champika Amarasinghe said that people need to be healthy to work productively and efficiently. “Though there are many positives, we have to talk about the negative aspects in terms of occupational safety and health because there are many strategies to minimize work-related accidents and diseases. In the global context, though we see a lot of occupational accidents, the occupational disease burden is three times more than the burden of work-related accidents. This applies to the Sri Lankan context as well. But we see lots of work-related accidents at present. In the Sri Lankan context, we are talking about the industry and it could be anything from constructions to agriculture, manufacturing, textiles etc. Even the public sector is another service sector where we need to talk about occupational safety and health. We have to have a proper definition when we talk about occupational safety and health like in every other country.

This is not relevant only to the industry, but applies to all workplaces. Based on the legislation, the country’s occupational safety and health services are provided only to the industry, but it shouldn’t be so. The definition of industry in the Factories Ordinance should be changed to workplaces. Therefore any place including the informal sector will be included.” said Dr. Amarasinghe. 

 

The law and regulations themselves are a challenge because they aren’t timely anymore. No occupational safety and health standards are specified in the Sri Lankan context. There’s no standard for personal protective equipment as well

 


Speaking further she said that in Sri Lanka though there are categories of industries there are different strata such as the multi-nationals, medium and small scale industries, the informal sector etc. “The multi-nationals comply with the international standards on occupational safety and health,” she continued. “They maintain high standards and they provide lots of facilities to the workers to maintain health. But the local industries are struggling with finances and therefore occupational safety and health aren’t their priority. Therefore the repercussions are accidents and diseases. The construction industry is a hazardous industry where many people are engaged in; which also includes young workers and poorly educated people. Since they are economically unstable, safety and health aren’t their priority because they need money to purchase food and other necessities. In terms of work-related diseases in the country, very minimal numbers are reported. But that doesn’t mean that work-related diseases don’t exist, but they aren’t diagnosed as work-related diseases. For example we use a lot of asbestos in the country and a possible work-related disease is mesothelioma, but it isn’t reported in the cancer registry. Even leptospirosis is another condition which is seen among workers in the agriculture sector.” the doctor added. 

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report recently stated that 60% of people working in the informal sector experience work-related accidents. But it also states that the informal sector is difficult to monitor. When asked about this, Dr. Amarasinghe said that it is because according to the Sri Lankan Law there exists a definition for a factory. “Formal industries are the captive population, hence the informal sector isn’t captured by the law like in all the other countries. The informal sector includes groups or family-run businesses and therefore there are no employers and employees as the formal sector. They are also struggling with finances and therefore the safety and health don’t become a priority. They aren’t aware of how a healthy worker would be more productive at work. It is also observed that they don’t work with any kind of protection. When we meet these people they refer to how their predecessors (sometimes their own kith and kin) used to work in the same careless manner and that they continue the same practice,” added Dr. Amarasinghe. 

 

 

Speaking about the challenges faced in implementing the law, Dr. Amarasinghe said that the Factories Ordinance was drafted many years ago and it has offered a definition for a factory. “It’s very old although the Ministry wants to change it. Instead of the definition for the Factory they want to bring in a definition for the workplace. But other than the Act lots of regulations need to be introduced. The law and regulations themselves are a challenge because they aren’t timely anymore. No occupational safety and health standards are specified in the Sri Lankan context. There’s no standard for personal protective equipment as well. These are the issues we have identified in terms of legislation. As Sri Lankans we aren’t safety-oriented people. We are a group of people who would like to take risks. This is why we see many accidents. We also talk about risk-taking behaviour and our people’s attitudes where people don’t think about the different hazards they are exposed to. They are more concerned about their comfort. Therefore there are challenges in changing behaviours and attitudes. But I also see a positive trend in people’s interest about learning occupational safety and health within industries,” she added. 

 

 

The history of industrial health and safety in Sri Lanka dates far back as 1896 with the enactment of the Mines and Machinery Protection Ordinance. This Ordinance mainly covered mines and allied industries. With a few legal amendments the Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance Act No. 19 of 1934 was brought about to make provisions for the payment of compensation to victims of factory accidents. Subsequently, with the development of the industrial sector in Sri Lanka the Factories Ordinance (Act No. 45 of 1942) was promulgated from January 1, 1950. With 131 sections included in this Ordinance, the sections prescribe the minimum standards that should be maintained by the ‘occupier’ to provide a safe work environment for workers. Under this Ordinance provisions are made for various aspects including cleanliness, overcrowding, temperature, ventilation, sanitary conveniences, drainage of floors, cranes and lifting machinery, explosives or flammable gases, accommodation of clothing among others. The Factories Ordinance defines the term ‘factory’ as a premises in which persons are employed in manual labour for the purpose of trade or gain in making, repairing, ornamenting, finishing, washing, cleaning or adopting for sale of any article. 

 
 
 

 

Ultimately the country will be governed by a law that the lawyers have not studied.

 

In her comments, eminent property rights lawyer Kirthimala Gunasekara said that new laws coming into other countries have been drafted by consulting legal experts. “But we follow what has been written in 1907 and 1895. Legal regulations are in place, but they have been copy-pasted from laws in other countries. Suddenly a British Law has come into force within the country which would make matters more complicated especially with regard to the Beira Lake extension into Port City. Ultimately the country will be governed by a law that the lawyers have not studied. How will the lawyers work in the future with electronic media and the foreign law? Airspace and fire should be overlooked by the relevant authorities. A condominium can go up to 75 floors, but the usual fire demonstration is done only till the fifth floor. What about access to these floors by differently-abled people and senior citizens? Are they equipped to rescue its residents in case of a fire? Laymen and foreigners draft the law and then they send it to the legal draftsman. Legal experts in other countries are being consulted whenever a change is being made to the law. It is also important to note that property law and electronic registrations are highly regarded subjects. If we are implementing foreign laws then we also need to find out what’s happening in those countries,” said Gunasekara.

 

 

Speaking to the Daily Mirror Civil Aviation Authority’s Deputy Director General (Airspace and Security Regulations) Rohan Manukulasooriya said that within a 15km radius from an airport there are compulsory height specifications for construction sites. “Obstacle Limitation Surfaces (OLS) are a set of surfaces associated with a runway, which identify the lower limits of an aerodrome airspace above which objects become obstacles to aircraft operations. Therefore anybody who decides to construct a skyscraper should refer it to the CAA for approval. But depending on the area and the nature of the construction, the specifications vary. There may be certain areas which may obstruct the routes of helicopters and local flights. The Colombo metropolis is now in higher demand for high-rise buildings and therefore we are looking at this matter on a broader perspective. Hence, we take each request case-by-case. In the case of a violation of these specifications, the Municipality has the authority to limit the number of floors,” said Manukulasooriya.

 

There may be certain areas which may obstruct routes of local flights. The Colombo metropolis is now in higher demand for high-rise buildings and therefore we are looking at this matter on a broader perspective - Manukulasooriya

 

The objective of the Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance is to obtain compensation from the employers to workmen injured following accidents at work or to workmen suffering from diseases attributable to the nature of employment and to their dependents in case of death of workmen from such causes. As means of implementing the said Ordinance, the Office of the Commissioner of Workmen’s Compensation was established and its main function is to inquire into the claims made by the workmen who meet with accidents in the course of their employment. 


The Daily Mirror learned that in the case of a fatality, a workmen’s family is paid Rs. 550,000 as compensation. For all other conditions such as during the loss of a body part they get 70% of their basic salary. This definitely is a small amount compared to the damage. In the global context, in the case of a fatality or disability, the victim and the family are looked after throughout their lives. But here, it is a one-off payment. Sri Lanka in fact doesn’t have a social security system. The Workmen’s Compensation is open to anybody and the employer has to bear the payment. In the case of statistics there is a disparity between these two arms. 

 

 

 

 

The Daily Mirror then took to the streets and inquired from pedestrians how they felt when they passed in front of skyscrapers and construction sites. 

 

 

The Daily Mirror then took to the streets and inquired from pedestrians how they felt when they passed in front of skyscrapers and construction sites. 

“I think they should have protective covers around these buildings. We also have trouble clearing up these areas every now and then,”  said 
M. Miyuri

 

 


“Sometimes it’s very scary to pass these sites. Several of them are there around the Hyde Park Corner area where I work,”  said Sivanamma

 

 

 

“This Government doesn’t think about the people. Every construction site should first think about the safety of the people which includes their workers as well. They are only concerned about the money,” said Logeshwaran.

 

 

“Those assigned to oversee these matters should make sure that pedestrians and the workers are safe. If an accident happens it may be too late because they work with iron rods and other heavy materials,” cautioned Dharmasiri.

 

 

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