Cambodia’s appalling safety record in the building and construction sector has propelled a former British Army bomb disposal engineer to take matters into his own hands, proposing to develop a dedicated occupational health and safety (OHS) training school.
Lax safety standards and working conditions within Cambodia’s construction industry is showing little sign of abating, despite the building boom fuelling the robust economic growth. In a sadly common occurrence, two construction workers were seriously injured earlier this week after falling from the third floor of a construction site.
While Cambodian construction workers continue to risk their lives for less than $10 a day, a national building code is still being drafted and isn’t scheduled to come into force until the end of the year.
Speaking at EuroCham Cambodia’s OHS and worksite safety forum last week, Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) secretary of state Pen Sophal told the crowd the government is placing priority on the much-awaited building codes, but stressed that implementation of new laws is not a quick process.
“Safety has become a major issue for the MLMUPC,” he said. “We have the proper legal framework to implement the construction law but it takes time.”
Sophal said the ministry is looking further afield to assist in drawing up regulations to govern the construction sector, adding that it is seeking to replicate the international safety standards set by other Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea.
The overarching theme of the safety forum, held at hotel Sofitel Phnom Penh, was the urgent need to improve and regulate the thriving construction industry to assist in stemming avoidable work-related injuries and fatalities.
According to one of the forum’s speakers, Stephen Bradley, managing director at Bradley and Associates, there is a lack of professional “certified” training in Cambodia in the sphere of OHS in all industries.
“The Department of OHS from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) is working to develop standards as are other organisations such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), with initiatives like ‘Better Factories Cambodia’,” he said.
“However, in the “booming” Cambodian construction industry there is an urgent need to improve the standards applied,” he added.
Bradley, who spent 16 years in the British army, founded Bradley and Associates in 2014 after witnessing a lack of OHS standards in Cambodia. The company provides professional consultancy and training services in OHS, International Standards Organisation standards, first aid, risk assessment and mine-action and related issues.
Currently, his firm is providing OHS coverage on the large expansion project at Cambodia Beer, which includes the oversight of all the Vietnamese sub-contractors.
During EuroCham’s safety conference, Bradley made mention of plans to open a dedicated safety training school in Phnom Penh, noting that he would be staging talks with the MLMUPC in coming weeks.
Expanding on the proposed training school to Post Property, Bradley said the concept had been floated under a recently inked memorandum of understanding (MoU).
“The MLMUPC is working through a MoU with the European Chamber of Commerce to improve building standards including OHS in construction,” he said.
“In the MoU...there is the intention to support the establishment of a training centre for construction companies and workers.
Bradley added, “My company aims to establish a training centre in OHS which will cater to all industries including construction, transportation, production etc, so the aims are in line with the MoU but the potential scope is a bit wider.”
Bradley has already started laying the groundwork for the centre, holding initial discussions with a “large local Cambodian-owned construction company” to investigate the feasibility of establishing the training school.
“They are keen to establish a training school for certain artisan skills training and they would like my company to establish the OHS training element of this school in Phnom Penh,” he said.
“They already have a location selected for the training centre here.”
Bradley’s vision for the school is all-encompassing. He expects that the commercial training facility would be self-funded through training fees and other sponsorships where possible.
“The aim would be to have all training “verified” and “certified” by the Royal Government of Cambodia, so that a national standard in OHS would be established,” he said.
“I would seek the support of the Cambodian Contractors Association in the establishment of the standards, as the standards must be practical as well as uniform.”
While the cost of the project is yet to be determined, Bradley said he had been in discussions with the Institution of Safety and Health in the United Kingdom regarding development funding.
Bradley hopes to have the basic training centre up and running by the end of 2016.