Muscat: Precariously balanced on a wooden beam high above the ground in Ruwi is a worker who is not wearing any safety gear at all, his life a matter of just one careless slip.
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And he is not alone. His colleagues are equally at risk as they clamber about on the rickety scaffolding that visibly shakes now and then. None of them are secured by harnesses, or any other safety gear. A shocked office worker in Muscat, who happened to look out of his window, captured these pictures and video.
“The scaffolding had gone up earlier in the day and I didn’t pay much attention, but then I heard a noise and the first guy climbed into view. Soon, two co-workers joined him. Just watching them from a safe distance was terrifying.
“They had no harnesses, the scaffolding shook as they moved about and the thin wooden planks that they were standing on did not look secure. They didn’t seem very confident, but that’s understandable.One wrong move at that height and they could have been dead,” the office worker said.
“I immediately called my administrative team, who called the company representatives. I went to talk to their supervisor outside the office but he merely uttered ‘sorry, sorry.’
“I watched them for another 20 minutes, but can’t say if they left because of my complaints or [because] they had simply finished the job,” he lamented.
The Times of Oman contacted the workers’ boss, who admitted that his employees didn’t wear harnesses or helmets, gloves or shoes while working.
“We wanted to finish that job early as the National Day is approaching,” he said, adding that they would follow all safety standards in future.
In Oman, those working in high-rise buildings should use cradles and ropes attached to their safety harnesses. In addition, scaffolds, cradles, rope access, cranes, and platforms that are used must conform to local and international safety standards.
“It is a violation of the rules. If members of the public see such lack of safety, they can complain by calling the call centre number on 80077000, and the Ministry of Manpower officials will follow up on the complaint and take necessary action,” said Salem Al Saadi, advisor to the Minister of Manpower.
The health and safety department at the ministry periodically visits building sites to make sure that the rules are being followed.
“Everyone working in hazardous conditions must be issued personal protection and other safety equipment to ensure their safety at the work site,” said Ahmed Al Hooti, member of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He also said employees working at high-rise structures should be given safety presentations before beginning work.
“That is one of the reasons we have been urging companies to educate their workers on safety issues before they start work,” he said, adding that the problem arises as a section of the construction industry is not organised.
Mark Pudwell, an international HSE training consultant, said it is the moral and legal responsibility of all employers to ensure that their employees have all the necessary training, tools, and personal protective equipment to carry out all the assigned tasks safely.
“Anyone working above two metres from the ground should be provided training on working at heights and the appropriate level of safety equipment including harnesses and helmets.
“The expectation of many employers that they need not invest in safety is extremely inadvisable and demonstrates a total lack of duty to care for their employees,” he said.
“The authorities should undertake an awareness campaign to address this issue and severely punish those who fail to follow the law. They must make an example of such offenders. This may well encourage others to see sense and protect the health and safety of employees,” he said.
Another safety expert said some companies were not attaching any value to human life and safety.
“We also see many workers working at heights without proper safety measures. The reason is lack of safety awareness,” said Biju Kumar Pillai, branch manager of United Gulf Access Co. LLC, whose company specialises in sales and rental of access platforms in Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
He also said they should educate the contractors and take strict measures in case of violations. “Similar action should be taken against others, too, and contractors should use the aerial work platform for workers’ safety,” he opined.
Meanwhile, Shaswar Al Balushi, the chief executive officer of the Oman Society for Contractors, said they were currently classifying construction companies on the basis of quality, and that health and safety aspects were being given high priority.
“Health and safety aspects are been given high priority in our classification process,” he said, adding that all stakeholders were equally responsible for health and safety. “Contractors, clients, and workers should be aware of the importance of health and safety aspects,” he added.
Mohammed Al Khalid, a trade unionist, said workers’ safety should be the top priority of employers.
“Manpower is the most important resource of a company. We should not risk that. Companies should educate workers about safety aspects and make sure that they have adequate safety gear while at work,” the trade unionist said.