Forum calls for better safety

Amid a construction boom in Phnom Penh
Amid a construction boom in Phnom Penh, government and industry stakeholders are calling for improved safety standards. Scott Howes

Forum calls for better safety

At a first-ever property industry forum this week, private and public sector representatives called for urgent improvements to safety standards.

The forum, which was hosted by the European Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, was touted as a concerted effort to improve the dialogue between industry and the government over planning policy, regulation and construction safety standards.

Im Chhun Lim, senior minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said there was a need for improvements to the sector, which he says attracted some $2.8 billion in total investments during 2013 alone.

He said as the ASEAN region nears integration next year, strengthening Cambodia’s construction industry is “an urgent necessity”, especially for high-rise buildings to be built in accordance with high safety standards.

“I call on all parties concerned working in real estate development … to conduct more research with partners from developed countries in order to bring our construction to be safer, healthier, more comfortable, more beautiful in order to have a more efficient real estate market,” Chhun said.

Christophe Bourdon, vice chairman of EuroCham’s Real Estate and Construction Committee (RECC), urged the audience and government to adopt adequate safety procedures on construction sites and inside finished projects in the absence of any overarching authority within Cambodia.

“In terms of investment, it is also a matter of protection – protecting your properties, the reputation of investors as well as the reputation of Cambodia and its construction industries,” Bourdon said.

“Fortunately, we have not seen yet any medium-size or high-rise buildings burning in Cambodia yet, but more and more people are becoming worried,” he added, pointing to an image of a 28-story skyscraper in Shanghai engulfed in flames.

Bourdon called for basic measures such as construction helmets, work boots and harnesses on construction sites, and compulsory fire detection devices, evacuation plans and the use of firefighting devices in the country’s increasingly numerous high-rise buildings.

“Cambodia has already suffered deaths and casualties at several major constructions [sites],” he said.

“Large numbers of workers are injured daily on construction sites throughout Cambodia. There are several causes that are the most important: lack of training, lack of awareness from the workers themselves, and a general weakness in the enforcement of the rules.

“The responsibility of the contractors or builders can often be questioned as well. Some construction companies are still failing to provide good environments and safety.”

“We need to continue to improve what we are doing and can never rest on our laurels,” said Simon Griffiths, senior manager at CBRE Cambodia, opening the day’s first session.

“We need a standardised code of measurements for surveyors, standardised valuation practices, real estate agency licensing, to strengthening condominium laws, land titling, and building and safety codes.”

According to Griffiths, the number of condominium developments built, under construction or being planned in Cambodia has risen from “zero” in 2009 to some 5,000 this year.

“I honestly could have probably named all of the developments last year, but now I simply cannot keep track of them all. This is a very interesting time to say the least. Cambodia is in a construction boom.”

But the domestic real estate market in Cambodia, while impressive, is not where the Kingdom is seeing the most growth.

According to CBRE, supply of office spaces in Cambodia has increased from about 60,000 in 2006 to more than 160,000 as of December last year. And though supply has trebled over eight years, vacancy rates during the same period have remained at about 30 per cent.

“And I don’t think these graphs really show the true picture of the office market,” Griffiths said.

“The culture of working in villas and shop-houses in low-grade buildings is really starting to shift … Many companies are now looking to move to larger and bespoke, purpose-built office spaces. But there are simply not enough of those spaces available right now.”