Walking under the shadow of death | Sunday Observer

Walking under the shadow of death

Colombo is currently experiencing a construction boom, with new buildings mushrooming all over the city. Construction sites are so common, with cranes overhanging them, that nobody gives them a second thought. However, these cranes hover over public roads at times and carry a deadly hazard to the safety of those passing beneath it, a fact that the majority ignore or remain ignorant of. There is a possibility of these cranes collapsing on the public and causing serious injury or death.

“These cranes represent a public nuisance, and there are two concerns related to this. One is that public should not be inconvenienced to gain profits. The other is, a risky activity should not be performed without closing down the road,” said Attorney-at-Law, Thishya Weragoda .

He said that via these cranes, construction companies are creating a hazard to the general public, where they can carry out projects by obtaining a development permit from the Urban Development Authority(UDA), which includes no regulations on the operation of cranes. Parliament Road, Narahenpita Road and Horton Place are a few examples where these cranes operate. At some places, construction cargo is unloaded onto the pavement and then hauled to the site via a crane.

Accident prone

One example of a crane crash in the recent past was the crane accident that took place when the office of the Institute of Bankers Sri Lanka (IBSL), in Elvitigala Mawatha was constructed, killing the operator of the crane. Other notable crane accidents include the collapse of the 80 ton crane in Dongguan, China, in 2016, resulting in 18 deaths and 18 injuries. In 2015, due to high winds and rain, a crane snapped and crashed through the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, killing more than 100 pilgrims and injuring 238 more.

According to Weragoda , under the Factories Ordinance, which makes provisions for safety and welfare of workers under industrial activities, there needs to be a permit for the crane.

“This is because it is heavy machinery to ensure the safety of the crane operator.

Therefore, the operator has to be insured, but these provisions have nothing to do with the general public passing underneath it,” he said. Weragoda noted that cranes being operated on public roads are an instance of negligence, which carries a serious risk.

The Thoroughfare Ordinance and Municipality Ordinance, nothing should be overhanging the roads. Therefore, how can six tonnes of weight be hanging over the heads of the public, he asks. Weragoda said that in such a case assumption of negligence is automatic.

“Under strict liability, if an individual brings something dangerous to his land, he is liable for any damage caused, irrespective of whether he intended to cause damage or not. In this case, roads are public space, therefore there is no excuse,” he said.

Need for safety guidelines

In other countries, cranes are not allowed to hang over public roads, cranes are only allowed to operate over narrow roads, which have to be closed for the period of work, Weragoda said.

He said in a certain Municipality in England, permit to operate a crane includes guidelines for cranes, occupational safety, passenger safety and insurance. The insurance has to be paid by both the contractor and the developer, where the contractor needs five million pounds per incident insurance in place and developer needs 10 million pounds per incidence insurance in place. “Sometimes the cost of this per incidence insurance increases the value of the entire building under construction,” he said.

Weragoda further said that in Sri Lanka, five people have to complain, for police to take action against a roadside crane.

“You can’t wait for something to happen, a crane to crash to take action. What about preventing something from happening ?” he asked.

Acting Chairman of the Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA), M R Jeyachandran said, under Section 29 of the Factories Ordinance, there are regulations on the operation and maintenance of safety of the crane and the operator, where daily inspection of the crane is required. He added that under the regulations of CIDA, there should be a safety officer with declared qualifications on the premises.

“Also, CIDA is currently in the process of bringing in a set of regulations and guidelines for the entire construction process. Under crane safety, we will ensure that the contractor has to follow Section 29 of Factory Ordinance. In addition, they have to ensure people who are working under a crane are covered, therefore, this will ensure the public on the road will be covered too,” he said.