When a neighbour shouted that someone had been killed by a collapsed gate yesterday, Mao Moun, 69, didn’t think it could have been his own son.
But after he rushed to the stretch of land by the Mekong River that his son was overseeing for a Cambodian business tycoon, Moun discovered the tragic truth.
A funeral for Noun Phearak, 23, was held shortly afterwards.
Phearak was a construction worker and vegetable farmer who helped look after a plot that Ly Say Khieng, CEO of SKL group, planned on developing into a holiday home.
Chin Charmoeun, 31, one of the other overseers, said he was almost killed by the heavy metal gate’s fall too.
“Noun came over at 1am on Tuesday. And then we opened the gate and it collapsed on my friend,” said Charmoeun, who escaped unscathed.
Hit in the head, Phearak died instantly and was not taken to hospital.
The incident – along with a recent factory-floor collapse, and the death of a motorist in a construction accident – adds to a growing body of evidence that building standards and safety are not keeping apace with Cambodia’s booming industry.
According to another person overseeing the land, 40-year-old Ly Thieng Ngok, the gate had long been a concern since it was built a year ago.
“It was only built a year ago, and there were no standards,” said Thieng Ngok.
“Every day, I am afraid of the gate collapsing. It is so heavy and the women don’t dare to open it.”
According to a report recently released by the UK’s Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Cambodia badly needs to introduce proper building standards and develop “a building control profession to undertake the compliance checking and enforcement of these standards”.
Dave Welsh, country director for the US-based Solidarity Center, said smaller sites with informal workers “are especially vulnerable” to safety issues due to a lack of regulation and accountability.
While officials promise to begin work on a national building standards bill as early as this year, such a hazy prospect is little comfort to the family of the deceased.
Speaking through tears at her brother Phearak’s funeral, 44-year-old Noun Saveth said everyone in the village demanded police replace the gate with a lighter one made of wood.
“Do not build the same gate again. It is unsafe. It will cause an accident to someone else.”
However, despite the tragic event, compensation remains uncertain.
Phearak’s family filed a complaint to local police for damages, but Ly Say Khieng, who never visited the property, was nowhere to be found yesterday.
“Police are looking to contact him, but there is no information from him yet,” said Loh Sitha, police chief of Chambok Meas commune.
Mao Moun, Phearak’s father, said “this is my son’s life”.
“He must get some compensation because of the unsafe gate,” Moun continued.
According to Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project, compensation in construction workers’ accidents can be difficult to immediately obtain, and families are often forced to bypass the court system.
“Right now, the compensation through the courts can take so long, so people [opt] for payouts.”
Ly Say Khieng could not be reached for comment.