Last week, my lovely daughter Michelle was driving beneath the Nairobi Expressway when falling debris smacked her windscreen and damaged her bonnet. She joined a growing list of motorists who in the recent past have lost their windscreens and damaged their vehicles under similar circumstances on the same road. As the chairperson of motorcycle assemblers, I get chills when I imagine the number of boda bodas that daily ply our roads that are under construction in the country including innocent pedestrians. And therefore, I dare warn that even though accidents will always happen there may be some people who are currently sleeping on their job because as much as we need the infrastructure, our safety is equally critical.
Through my two engineer friends, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there already exists relevant legislation that anchor a safety plan and apply to all contractors. The first one is the Occupational safety and health Act 2007 while the second one is encapsulated in rules that are known as ‘Building Operations and Works of Engineering Construction (BOWEC) Rules.’
I only picked five areas that road contractors MUST adhere to.
One, the contractor must prepare and present through public participation an elaborate safety plan. With this plan, the contractor must employ safety supervisors to monitor all aspects of safety. Given the high-risk nature of construction projects, I suggest that the safety tenets of the contract be widely publicized, and hotline numbers are established for use whenever a breach is noticed.
Two, the contractor must shield the road construction site from falling objects and debris and also place clear signage. The fact that we have experienced multiple accidents in the last few months, it is clear that something is absolutely gone berserk. As we have seen in recent years, people can pay with their lives if relevant authorities fail to consistently enforce safety requirements.
Three, all the plants, equipment, and tools must be serviceable and duly certified. The operators must also be experienced and highly qualified.
Four, all employees working on a construction site must be fitted with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE’s). This is meant to decrease the risk of work-related injuries and accidents including electrocution or being caught between equipment. But haven’t we seen with our own naked eyes team members working at road construction sites without PPE’s?
Five, all diverted traffic must be guided by Traffic Marshals and must be free of dust and potholes. One of the reasons why road contractors cost and are paid lots of money is to ensure minimal inconvenience to road users and a clean environment to surrounding communities at all times. Exposure to dust affects our lungs and can lead to heart attacks. That is why it is a requirement for contractors to water the road at all times. On the other hand, potholes are annoying and inconvenient. They needlessly damage our vehicles. Painfully, the contractors have been paid to guard us against such encumbrance. But do they?
The Directorate of Occupational Safety & Health Services (DOSHS) has a mandate to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Occupational safety and health Act 2007 among others. Would it be too much to ask that they set up mobile offices along with road construction sites? How else can they create more well-paying jobs for qualified professionals in this field?
In 2020, Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi’s sued the Kenya National Highways Authority (KenHa) for negligence after a stone damaged his car’s windscreen. He won the case and was awarded Sh750,000.
Indeed, victims of construction-related accidents must seek legal and financial redress for compensation because the projects are fully insured. We all have a right to walk, cycle, ride or drive safely. I humbly suggest that our President order a detailed report on accidents on construction sites. It is we the ordinary citizens who must remain vigilant and hold contractors accountable. At least together with others, I stopped road contractors from felling the historical tree in Westlands. This is what it means to think and act green.