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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Death at worksite sees five charged

The construction site of the Olympia City development in Phnom Penh
The construction site of the Olympia City development in Phnom Penh, where a woman was killed by a falling beam on Sunday. Pha Lina

Death at worksite sees five charged

Five construction workers who were on duty when a metal support beam fell 12 storeys and killed a passing motorist were charged yesterday with unintentional murder; two worksite managers who were also initially arrested were released.

“I have decided to charge five suspects who are workers, because they were careless while working, causing a metal rod to fall down and kill the victim,” said Phnom Penh deputy prosecutor Keo Socheath. “The two managers have been released because they were not involved and were not present at the construction site.”

Community Legal Education Center labour department head Moeun Tola yesterday said the decision was an obvious case of scapegoating.

“It is the big man who must be made responsible,” he said. “It is not the mistake of the workers; it is the carelessness of the company and the managers that let this happen.”

The five men charged were identified as Chem Chhun, 21; Chem Thoeuth, 23; Lon Sam Ol, 36; Khuon Vichea, 20; and So Savai, 24.

Vendors near the $400 million Olympia City development project said debris falling around the construction area was common, but Puth Vanny, a 48-year-old riding by with her son and his fiancee, was the first to be struck and killed.

But the big fish heading up the development project – Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC), with subcontractor Cana Sino Construction Corporation – haven’t completely escaped censure.

The building the beam fell from was ordered to suspend construction yesterday, though three other structures under development in the same block, and likewise owned by OCIC, were allowed to continue operations. Only the building overseen by subcontractor Cana Sino was required to suspend progress, according to Keurt Sareth, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management and Urban Planning.

“This accident demonstrated a negligence of safety by the management,” Sareth said, adding that the owner of the construction firm, the project manager and a representative of OCIC would be sent summonses and face potential legal action.

After receiving a “satisfactory settlement” the victim’s family – who previously demanded $100,000 – dropped a lawsuit against OCIC, according to Socheath, the deputy prosecutor.

Even though the accident occurred on a worksite, the National Social Security Fund, which insures private sector workers, said they bear no responsibility to the injured party as she was not hurt on the job or on her way to work.

The Planning Ministry has laws and regulations for construction sites, the ministry’s Construction Department secretary general Huy Nara said in an interview yesterday.

“We have codes for safety at every construction [site],” Nara said. “The safety rules protect everyone at the site and people living near the site. If [OCIC workers] followed protocol, there would not have been an accident.”

At a press conference yesterday, a Planning Ministry undersecretary of state said his ministry as well as the ministries of labour, environment and interior will investigate the case.

After charges were filed against the five construction workers who now face possible prison time for Vanny’s death, Chem Chhun, 21, pleaded for the court to reconsider, saying he was not involved in the bar falling.

“I was not involved in the accident,” Chhun said yesterday. “I was not near where the metal fell from and killed that woman; I’m the victim of false arrest.”

REPORTING BY TAING VIDA, BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA, LAIGNEE BARRON, SEAN TEEHAN AND PHAK SEANGLY

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