Study links fatalities at construction sites to reluctance to invest in safety

A construction site: Research says most accidents occur just before workers take ther lunch break

NAIROBI, KENYA:  The construction boom in Nairobi has been blamed for the high rate of accidents and loss of life among young men.

Data from the Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health (Dosh) recorded 237 accidents in a four-year period, with 32 fatalities in Nairobi.

At the same time, the data shows about 115 men aged 21 to 40 were seriously injured during the period, some of them sustaining lifetime disabilities.

More than 70 per cent of the injured or workers killed in accidents at construction sites in Nairobi were aged below 40 years.

The data was analysed in a new study on the safety of construction sites in Nairobi by a team led by Raymond Kemei of the Kenya Army Corps of Engineers of the Kenya Defence Forces.

Most of the accidents in the study occurred in Kasarani, Embakasi, Westlands and Kibera sub-counties in that order.

“Kasarani had the highest number of reported accidents while Kibera had the highest number of fatal accidents,” says the study in the September issue of the American Journal of Construction and Building Materials.

The data draws a link between a rush to meet deadlines and the ending of the national financial year to the frequency of accidents.

The highest number of accidents, the study shows, happens during the months of June and July, more than doubling in the latter.

The authors, including James Wambua Kaluli, and Charles Kabubo of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, suggest pressure from the financial year calendar compromised safety measures at most sites.

“During this period, it appears that workers have to deal with multiple activities, creating a situation where workers and site supervisors are overworked, leading to accidents.”

On the other hand, most construction site accidents in Nairobi, the study shows, happen between 10am and 1pm (37.6 per cent) and from 3pm to 5 pm (26 per cent).

“It’s established that most accidents occur around just before the workers take a lunch break and it has been called 'lunch time effect',” says the study.

The study came up with 10 main reasons for the increasing number of accidents at construction sites, top of these being reluctance to invest in safety, lack of training in safety and failure by regulators to enforce safety regulations.

For example, while project managers are required to prepare a written budget for safety plans, almost all the sites visited by the research team lacked such plans.

“The majority of construction companies in Nairobi, even with a budget of over half a billion shillings, allocate less than one per cent to health and safety per year,” reveals the study.

Project risks

While the law in Kenya requires every construction site to have safety officers to identify project risks, these were almost non-existent even on major construction sites.

Dosh, on the other hand, lacks capacity to effectively supervise safety measures at construction sites in Nairobi, having only a third of the required employees during the study period.

The report comes at a time when medical doctors have raised concerns over the increasing number of injuries being reported for emergency care.

For example, a recent report shows injuries are the second most common cause of patient visits to the emergency unit of Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret.

The report published in August by, among others, doctors in the Accident and Emergency Department of KNH, showed 23 per cent of patients at the unit were there because of injuries.

Topping the causes of injuries reported at the unit were traffic and construction site accidents, violence and burns.

Led by Justin Guy Myers of the University of North Carolina, US, the study says the increasing rate of injuries presents a new challenge to an already stretched emergency health system in Kenya. For example, the study says, the system suffers from serious transportation problems, with 39 per cent of emergency patients to KNH likely to arrive by bus or matatu, 28 per cent on foot and only 17 per cent by ambulance. []