CRANES are a ubiquitous feature of the urban landscape where construction sites proliferate. Whether tower or mobile, they are used to lift heavy objects such as concrete beams into place, sometimes way up when building skyscrapers, for example. Recently, they have proven to be a serious hazard to the public. Accidents have occurred when, for one reason or another, cranes collapse and some have been fatal. The most recent incident was rather fortunate in that no fatalities were recorded despite having occurred in a busy commercial area. A mobile crane perched on the fourth floor of a building keeled over and was left partly suspended from the ledge. Lives were probably saved as a result, for it does not bear thinking if the crane and its truck had fallen to the ground on a busy street.

Automatically the mind wonders, “How come?” Are these machines deceptively robust, in that they are suffering from material fatigue, but conveniently ignored by those looking to extract the most from their investment? Are they being handled by skilled operators? Are they being used recklessly as workhorses without thought of the possible dangers they present? Because there have been too many accidents involving cranes, the authorities have investigated to determine the causes, especially those that have resulted in the deaths of members of the public. Last August, for instance, a crane hook fell onto a car killing its driver in Kuala Lumpur’s busy Jalan Raja Chulan. In that incident, a stop-work order was issued by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) and the hook was seized. Preliminary investigations found that the law had been breached on several counts. Most importantly was the fact that the crane was protruding beyond the construction site’s perimeter. This overhang meant that when the hook became detached, regardless of the reason, it would not have fallen within the site. There were also other infringements. As a result of this particular incident, the DOSH has been auditing the safety of construction sites, focusing on both mobile and tower cranes.

Unfortunately, the department is vastly undermanned. When 60 qualified officers are overseeing as many as 600 construction sites in the Klang Valley alone, safety breaches are almost inevitable. This is a catch-22 situation: if the authorities restrict the number of construction projects to conform to an acceptable ratio of inspectors to construction sites, it would be seen as hampering progress. But, as is obvious from the many accidents in and around these places, there is a need for regular inspections. Shouldn’t the government provide for more site safety auditors? Of course, a one-to-one auditing is neither practical nor practicable. The aim would be to decide on an effective ratio. Yes, the law is clear and the regulations tight but as with the mouse, when the cat is away it is always at play. There must be more officers to regularly audit the safety standards of sites and heavy fines imposed when the law is breached.

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