‘If we die, great. Worse is if we get paralyzed for life’

‘If we die, great. Worse is if we get paralyzed for life’
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Construction workers toil in life-threatening situations without safety gear

Srinagar: Workers at construction sites in the Valley are seen playing with death every day as a majority of them work in dangerous situations without any safety gear, like helmets, gloves or even boots.
“You see there?” said labourer Abdul Rahman, pointing at the bricks and iron rods kept on the third floor of an under-construction building.
“God forbid if something falls down. I can’t even imagine the way we will be injured,” he said.
Rahman works at a construction site at Bemina where a warehouse is being built.
“If we die, great. Worse is we can get paralyzed for life,” said Rahman adding, “No one takes care of our lives, we have do this death work as we don’t have other work to do.”
Another worker at the site, Maqbool Ahmad Dar, came up just then in great pain and handed over Rs 50 to another labourer, asking him to get a band aid, some Dettol and a pain killer from a nearby shop. A minor cut had left Dar’s middle finger bleeding because of the torn gloves he had on, which were of no use.
“We need money so we can give our families two meals, otherwise who wants to do this work?” he said. The survivor of a gruesome work site accident six years ago, he recounts how he crashed down that fateful day in the summer of 2012 while working on a mobile tower line and received severe burns.
“Six years back, I was repairing a mobile tower line in my PDD department. The in-charge ordered the power supply to the area to be cut, but at the same time they gave the supply, forgetting that I was working. I got a shock and in no time I fell unconscious.”
When Dar came to consciousness, he was in a hospital bed with excruciating pain in his right arm. The doctors at Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, where he had been taken, discovered severe gangrene rapidly spreading in his right arm. Blood had clotted his veins. The bones were fractured at six points. There were also multiple fractures in his back.
“I don’t remember what exactly happened. It was difficult to believe at first,” Dar said. “Since then, I keep thinking that it would have been better had I died in that incident. Since then, I left that job and in 2014 I started work as a construction labourer, but this job is also the same as that one. Here too is the danger of death, anything can happen, and we don’t have any high-tech safety equipment. The authorities did not provide anything even gloves or shoes.”

Given the cut he had received that day, this reporter asked Dar why no proper gloves had been provided. He said, “Who told you these gloves were provided to us? No, we bought these on our own. No safety gear has been given to any of us.”

Another worker who works near TRC told Kashmir Reader, “We have approached the authorities many times to provide us safety gear, but every time they say we will give you but do nothing. They don’t pay any heed to our issues. We don’t even have safety belts; if we fall while working, we will be dead in no time.”
The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act, 1996, is intended for the benefit of workers engaged in building and construction activities by regulating matters related to their safety, health and welfare.
But, invariably, site engineers at different locations blame the labourers for their mishaps. Talking about the lack of safety gear, one said, “These workers themselves don’t like wearing gear. In summer the temperature is very high, so they say they cannot wear the gear, and in winter when there is a dip in temperature, they say who will wear a helmet, we have already worn a hood.”
Assistant, Labour Commission Department, Zammer Ahmad told Kashmir Reader that they are well aware of the issue. “We are not able to go to every site for checking whether the employer has provided safety gear to the employees as we don’t have vehicles available here,” he said.
“Whenever we find anyone violating the rule, we fine them as per the Act, but Rs 2000 is not sufficient; they can easily pay the fine and violating the rule again,” he said
The department needs this Act to be revised so it becomes a burden for violators.
While asking if there is any rule for compensation, he replied, “The concerned agency has to pay the compensation if an incident happens to any employee.
As per the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, workmen and/or their dependents are to be provided some relief in case of accidents arising out of or during their work resulting in either death or disability.
Jammu and Kashmir Labour Commissioner Bashir Ahmad Khan told Kashmir Reader, “We know they are violating the rules. But now the department has taken a new step to provide safety gear. We issued a tender for this six months ago but did not receive any response.”
He added, “We have again issued the tender. Once we have received a response, we will provide safety gear for the labourers.
The department’s focus is on labourers working in kilns and bridge construction.