Real Estate

Is your building safe?: a look at construction safety in India

L ast month, a six-storey apartment block collapsed into an adjacent building in Noida, killing three people. Earlier this week, a three-storey building came crashing down in Kanpur. Closer home, 32 labourers were injured on July 22 when a structure under construction crumbled in Kandanchavadi. These incidents are a few of the many mishaps the building industry has witnessed this year.

Statistics from the British Safety Council (BSC) —which set up its India office in November 2017 — indicate that in India, over 80% of the estimated 465 million-strong workforce is not protected by the health and safety legal framework. Overall workplace deaths are 20 times higher than in the UK and 24% of these are in the construction sector, points out Mike Robinson, CEO of BSC. With 80% of the workforce still em ployed in unsafe environments, followed by poor implementation of laws and no infrastructure available for workers, it’s high time the much-overlooked construction safety management sector was overhauled.

Laws in place

At present, the National Build ing Code (NBC) regulates safety in construction activity and if any structure fails to comply with the codes, its builder will be penalised and in certain cases, the approval can get cancelled or the building may get demolished.

Public bodies like municipal councils are responsible to control the rapid development with limited resources, which brings in the need for technologies like Geographic Information System (GIS), says A. Shankar, Chief Operating Officer, JLL India. The State Building Regulations lay down minimum standards for design, construction and alterations. Major components include zoning, sub-division of land, land use, structural design, to name a few.

But the legislation for the benefit of workers is the Building and Other Constructions Workers Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 (BOCW). It regulates their employment conditions, safety and health. As for Chennai, for buildings within the Chennai Corporation limits, the Chennai City Corporation Building Rules 1972 will apply. S.C. Raghuram of city-based Rank Law Associates explains, “The said rules provide for various conditions and stipulations on all aspects of construction including conformance to NBC. There are also special rules for multi-storey and public buildings notified in the year 1974, for buildings having over four floors.”

As for penalties, Chapter XI of the Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act (Sections 83 to 89) deals with the punishments for failing to comply with the Rules or breach of provisions of law. Punishments include demolition/restoration of the building and fines. The Act also provides for criminal prosecution under the Code of Criminal Procedure, wherever applicable, adds Raghuram of Rank Law.

Mandatory approvals

The BOCW states that every employer with 50+ employees is required to issue a written statement of his policy with respect to the safety and health of his employees and make arrangements to give effect to the said policy. After a sufficient assessment of any possible risk an employee is exposed to at work, the builder should provide basic facilities such as site access, site boundaries, lighting, fire safety and also protective equipments like safety helmets, footwear, goggles, gloves, etc. Suitable precautions must be taken during excavations, working at height, roof works, moving, lifting and handling loads and chemicals.

Other approvals needed include a Fire NOC, Approvals from the All Chief Electrical Inspector to Government (CEIG), a Pollution Control Board NOC, RERA approval, and if applicable, an airport authority clearance and an explosive authority clearance, highlights Surendra Hiranandani, Chairman & MD, House of Hiranandani.

The following is a basic outline of mandatory approvals/checks necessary prior to the construction in Chennai:

l Structural design details to be submitted and certified by the structural engineer/architect

l Submit plans online for checking for Development Regulations and Building Rules

l A checklist of documents as stipulated by the development authority are verified during the submit ion of the planning permission application.

l The site for which the planning permission applications / building applications are submitted by the applicant will be inspected by officials of Corporation of Chennai within three days from the date of submission

l Random inspection from the labour department

RERA norms

The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act (RERA) has no specific clause dedicated to construction safety, however, if one looks closely, there are a few rules that ensure safety norms are met during construction. Shankar explains how, under the Act, construction defects must be rectified by developers free of cost for a period of two years, and structural defects, for a period of five years. “A project’s construction and sale can begin only after the builder has obtained all statutory approvals.

With 50% of the funds received from sales now allocated in escrow account for timely completion, it will ensure quality construction,” he says.

In addition to this, developers cannot make changes to original plans or the structural design and specifications of the building, unless they get the consent of two third of the customers.

What we lack

Despite a strict framework in place, the common rules flouted by developers include overlooking the Contract Labour Regulation Act norms to fast track projects. “The enforcement of welfare facilities for workers as per BOWC norms are not followed and Employees State Insurance (ESI) is often not considered too,” says Harleen Oberoi, Senior Executive Director, Colliers International.

A large proportion of Indian workforce remains outside the existing health and safety laws, says Robinson. Regulators are under-resourced and laws are poorly enforced, with just one factory inspector for every 506 registered factories. “There is no requirement to report accidents and ill health in many industry sectors. Hence there are serious concerns that the official statistics are seriously under-reported,” he adds.

Serious issues such as a blatant disregard of laws and workers unaware of their rights aside, the rise of unauthorised and illegal structures across the country can’t be ignored. The absence of sensible urban planning and lack of space have led to the continued spurt of such constructions. “Moreover, the use of sub standard materials to reduce costs and increase profit margins by builders/contractors have led to building collapses and cave-ins,” says Shankar.

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Printable version | May 28, 2022 1:35:55 pm |