I deeply thank Habib Battah for his blog post on The Beirut Report for highlighting an example of the bad conditions under which construction workers (foreign most of the time) live in Lebanon. Construction in general is a subject close to my heart, and “health and safety” is a main aspect of delivering construction projects, considering this industry is statistically one of the most dangerous in terms of accidents and casualties numbers (relative to other office and non-office jobs).
I have written on Lebanese health and safety matters on this blog before. Previous examples were here, here and here. I strongly believe it all comes down to the right of every employee to go back, daily, unharmed to their families from their routine paid job. People should not feel under pressure to take uncontrolled safety risks just to make a living.
Although I am very aware that too much regulations can increase bureaucracy and hinder production, but Lebanon should not worry about it at this stage! We don’t have yet the minimum working environments that respect the human rights of individuals. If we think we want defend human rights here and there, workforce and employees welfare should be as a priority as, let’s say the electoral law. But ha, in Lebanon? No chance, because sadly not doing it doesn’t hit politicians’ careers hard.
The above photo demonstrates so many issues, I will try to summarise them:
Zero welfare: There don’t seem to be on site any welfare facilities like descent eating canteen, toilets, resting place and warm and drying rooms during winter. Modern international laws these days require similar facilities to be in place. These can be easily provided via ready made cabins installed on site.
Fire risk: Sleeping on site itself is considered a no-no. This can endanger the workers’ safety in case of a fire, which is likely on construction projects, especially in a country like Lebanon where fire risk assessment is not something that’s even mentioned.
No work-life balance: Moreover, sleeping on site deprives the workforce the chance to maintain a “work-life” balance. Yes, these days modern laws give the right to individuals to “go away” daily from their workplace to de-stress. Stress is actually a main spread and recognised work illness.
Light pollution: you might not think this is not a serious issue, but actually the very bright sleeping conditions shown in the above photo clearly breach the recommended minimum light intensity for a good sleep. They also affect the neighbouring residents, which you would think they can go to the municipality to complain against the project. Noise, dust and light pollutions are typical byproducts of construction projects, and local communities have the right to be protected from them.
No so comfy: let’s not brag on this a lot, but have you tried to sleep on steel bars using probably an aged thin useless mattress, forever?
The solutions are obviously implementing the measures that would control the above issues, but also to consider some kind of “minimum living wage”. Saving the petty wages these workers receive is sadly the main drive for them to accept these unlivable conditions.
This obviously will increase the cost of construction projects and ultimately have inflationary pressures on the economy, but it can be phased to minimise the impact over long term. The bottom line is, something must be done, else let’s invite officials to go down to site and try it for a week, even if the risk is less than that of assassination.
Photo credit: Habib Battah on The Beirut Report