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Construction tragedy

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People gather around the wreckage of steel and concrete at a construction site in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district yesterday morning. Pha Lina

Construction tragedy

A construction worker died and two others were injured yesterday after part of a Phnom Penh supermarket development collapsed, the latest incident highlighting the dangers plaguing Cambodia’s booming construction sector.
The dead man was identified as Va Sok, 52, while his injured companions are siblings Un Oeu, 50, and Un Eam, 48.

The collapse occurred at about 8:20am at the Trapang Thleung supermarket development in Por Sen Chey district, where work was immediately suspended. The men were working for Thoeun Sokha Group, whose owner, Thoeun Sokha, could not be reached for comment.

According to Korn Rithy, 31, who was working on the site, he and the three victims had been among 10 workers smoothing concrete on the first floor prior to the incident.

Rithy said once the smoothing was completed, most of the workers moved on to another part of the construction site, but Sok, Oeu and Eam had gone down to the ground floor to check on their work from below. Moments later, it collapsed on top of them.

“[We] tried to take the construction debris away in order to find our friends, but we were only able to help the two injured workers.

We couldn’t find the man who died, and we needed an excavator to get his body out, because it had so much wet concrete pressed on top of it,” he said yesterday.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
People inspect an area of a construction site yesterday in Por Sen Chey district after the first floor of the building collapsed, leaving one dead and two seriously injured. Pha Lina

According to another co-worker, On Un, the victims could not escape because they were trapped among iron support bars.

The injured men were rushed to Phnom Penh’s Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital, while Sok’s body was sent to his family in Kandal province.

Speaking yesterday from his hospital bed, where he was nursing a broken leg, Un Oeu told of the horror of being trapped as wet concrete fell on top of him.

“I could not run or escape from it, because the area was full of iron poles. I shouted for help, but it was too late for them to help me,” he said.

Oeu said he had only been working on the site for around a month and earned $10 per day. He said he and most other workers did not have protective equipment or clothing.

According to Por Sen Chey district cadastral chief officer Bin Sineat, while the construction site has a legal permit and the materials involved met necessary standards, there were technical problems with the way they had been used.

Meanwhile, District Deputy Governor Keo Sophea told reporters that the owners of the development would be liable for compensation payments and construction had been temporarily suspended until the circumstances of the accident were resolved.

Cambodia country director at workers advocacy NGO Solidarity Center William Conklin yesterday said his organisation would be supporting the victims and their families throughout the legal process.

“We don’t yet know all of the facts in terms of who is at fault,” he said. “[We will] offer them support and legal aid to make sure they receive all they are entitled to under the terms of [national security].”

The Kingdom has a widely acknowledged lack of regulations governing building codes and safety standards.

In November of last year, four garment workers were injured in Takeo province when part of the floor of the factory they were working in collapsed.

That same month, a female motorist was killed when struck by a metal support beam that dropped 12 storeys from the capital’s Olympia City development as she passed by.

The following month, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned a graduating class of engineers to avoid the lax standards that plague the industry, saying they imperilled the healthy long-term development of the country.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHARLES PARKINSON

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