The Construction Industry – A Lesson from China

The Construction Industry – A Lesson from China

29th December 2015

The tragic news from China last week serves to highlight just how important it is to take health and safety into considerations in the construction industry.  It’s not just the building and working at height that can prove to be a risky business, it’s also the disposal methods used to get rid of the waste from construction sites and activities.  On 20th December, a mountain of construction debris and soil collapsed in the city of Shenzhen, north of Hong Kong in the Guangdong Province of China.  The accident had no apparent trigger like heavy rainfall or an earthquake, it was just a matter of the huge pile giving way having been added to for the past two years with no safety inspections.  The soil and construction waste dump had grown to the size of a 20 storey building consisting of soil and waste from construction projects which included road building, pipe laying and renovation work. 

According to Chinese state media reports, the site of the disaster was a former quarry that was approved for waste disposal in February, 2014.  The collapse of the pile of waste destroyed 33 buildings and left 100 people missing or unaccounted for.  The Beijing Youth Daily publications has disclosed that an environmental impact report published in January, 2015 had warned that there was a risk of soil erosion leading to the pile collapsing and recommended that effective safety measures be undertaken.  However it seems that the report was not taken seriously and this led to a tragic outcome.

Here in the UK, health and safety legislation and recommendations are taken more seriously and there’s full accountability for when things go wrong.  We’re also lucky here in Britain to have a stringent enforcement process in place to ensure that health and safety legislation is followed and that UK workers are protected from risk by the full force of the law.  We may moan from time to time about “elf and safety gone mad”, but there is method in this madness and it protects all of us from dangerous and unsafe practices.  This level of stringency is not enjoyed on a world-wide basis.  In fact, even in some European countries working in the construction industry is much more dangerous than it is here in the UK. 

Despite European health and safety legislation applying in all of the member states, not all of the countries involved have the mechanisms in place to ensure that the regulations serve to protect workers and the public.  Some of the European countries don’t have the enforcement procedures in place to ensure that construction companies adhere to European legislation and ensure that their construction activities don’t post a risk to their employees. 

The lessons learned in the wake of the Shenzhen disaster are a timely reminder that the health and safety legislation is there for a purpose and ignoring the regulations is likely to result in accidents, injuries and even fatalities.