health and safety

Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,
   Some people laughingly complain that occupational health and safety requirements are too onerous for business or too restrictive. Some even say the rules are representative of the pendulum having swung too far in favour of the workers. I’ve never been in that camp. Here in Dhaka the construction industry is but one industry where the case for more occupational health and safety measures is made very clearly.


Compare the scene in the photograph with a construction site in Australia. These construction workers have worked seven days a week since we returned to Dhaka. They live on-site – in that corrugated iron humpy at the back of the site. They start work at about 8 am on most days and don’t knock off until after 6 pm. On Friday (prayer day for Muslims) they start a bit later. The machine was cranked up at 9 am yesterday.

seven days a week

These men and women work through the rain, even when it becomes very heavy which is happening at least daily this season. Their lunch break seems to be fairly short and it’s taken in the middle of the mud patch you see in the foreground.

moved the pile drivers by hand

  They are driving piles for a multi-storey residential block. This is a common prerequisite for such a building as the thick alluvium means they have to drill perhaps 20 metres before it is safe for construction. These workers erected the tripod pile driver by hand and moved it to another hole when necessary – perhaps twenty times in the whole phase. 

carried on their heads

They carry the cement, sand and rocks in baskets on their heads between the pile and the mixer at the back of the site. They construct on-site the steel cylinders to go in the holes (you can see some lying on the ground ready to be hoisted and slid into the next hole).

bare feet

  The bloke welding one reinforcement cylinder to another yesterday was using an eye shield. That’s about the most modern occupational health and safety measure being employed on the site. Most of the time the men get around the site in bare feet since they need to constantly walk through the muddy drains the pile driving creates.
    For this job, these construction workers receive 500 taka per day. In AUD this translates to about $40 per week. (Remember, the exchange rate evens out the differences in cost of living so this figure is directly comparable.) This is their compensation for the hours, the strenuous effort and the danger inherent in the job. How can anyone hold a straight face when they laughingly remark that occupational health and safety has gone too far in Australia? 

khoda hafez from Dhaka

P.S. You might notice in the background – on the adjoining site – a woman cutting grass for her livestock. She does this by hand and carts it in the big basket on her back. People here are busy fattening cattle now in preparation for Eid which is in about four weeks. That’s a big religious feast for Muslims. Lots of cattle and goats are killed on the streets and the meat is divided among the people. Linda has expressed a desire to be out of the district when the killing starts. She prefers her meat to come from the butcher!

Other photos from hereabouts

fishing in the river
readymade garment factory, Dhaka

2 replies on “health and safety”

Well written Greg !
There is no occupational health and safety except couple of big organizations. People have to earn for their living, so getting a job/work is necessity rather than asking any other benefits. The poor and vulnerable even do not know that there is a term “health and safety”.

It will happen in the future Farzana when the economy reaches a point in which tax collections are sufficient to pay for such ‘luxuries’. It’s exactly the same everywhere else. One of the big problems in Bangladesh is that tax seems to be voluntary. When it is mandatory, and progressive, governments will have the money to spend on other infrastructure and health and safety requirements. Some of the big garment factories have terrific health and safety standards; brought about by consumer sovereignty. We were very impressed by the two readymade garment factories we visited. That was after Rana Plaza and Tazreen disasters. I hope you can see the underlying perspective I bring to the situation: the people involved at the bottom rung are not the problem. They are just trying their best to survive and improve their lot for the benefit of their children. That’s a universal desire. Thanks for leaving your comment. This is exactlky what I’m hoping to achieve: some discourse and discussion. Greg

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