by AFIQ AZIZ / pic by ARIF KARTONO
DESPITE having been operating for seven consecutive months after the easing of the lockdown, construction sites are still recording high numbers of Covid-19 cases.
This has raised concerns on the effectiveness of the outlined standard operating procedures (SOPs) at the sites.
Yesterday, the Damanlela cluster recorded 385 new positive Covid-19 cases, out of the total of 392 cases reported in Kuala Lumpur (KL).
According to an occupational safety and health expert, while the SOPs at the construction sites may be in order, there is no assurance that the workers are safe at home.
Malaysian Society for Occupational Safety and Health president Dr Shawaludin Husin said this was due to cramped housing facilities with limited and confined spaces, resulting in lack of physical distancing within the housing facilities.
“It is very hard to curb the cases of foreign workers in the construction sector.
“Even a systematic nation like Singapore, which has many Centralised Labour Quarter (CLQ), could not avoid spikes in Covid-19 cases,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) yesterday.
In Malaysia, concern was also raised on the mandatory Covid-19 screening enforced by the government in May, on whether such a mechanism is adequate to mitigate the risk of virus spread.
Pursuant to the Putrajaya announcement of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) in May, the Works Ministry issued a set of SOPs which the construction industry is required to comply with in order to operate.
The SOPs published by the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) were categorised as general SOPs and guidelines; guidelines on implementation of measures for prevention of Covid-19 at construction sites; as well as guidelines for the operation of CLQ and construction workers’ accommodation during the MCO.
On May 27, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the one-time mandatory screening had paid-off, after the Health Ministry (MoH) detected 44 Covid-19 cases at a construction site in KL from 400 total workers, hence, curbing the virus spread further.
“However, there is no assurance for workers to be screened at home and comply with physical distancing.
“The situation at home is different from the workplace, unless the government builds more CLQs and makes this mandatory, so it will be easier to control,” Dr Shawaludin said.
Dr Shawaludin also warned that there may be similar cases like that of Damanlela at other sites which are waiting to spike.
Last year, CIDB had provided accommodation at its CLQ for about 5,151 construction workers since its launch in 2018 up until July 2019.
However, with 1.84 million registered foreign workers in Malaysia and 15% in construction sectors, it is hard for either the government or employers to provide such spaces.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) deputy president Mohd Effendy Abdul Ghani demanded a thorough investigation by the authorities on the recent Damanalela issue.
Effendy told TMR this is because MTUC had received over 600 reports of non-compliance of SOPs from March to July 2020, which the congress assumed had been taken care of.
He also stressed that there must be proper guidelines and enforcement to ensure workers are not staying in crowded and confined houses which makes the virus transmission unavoidable.
“If employers failed to comply, they must be penalised accordingly.” Meanwhile, Malaysian Employers Federation ED Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan urged business owners and all parties involved in the construction supply chain to strictly comply with the SOPs.
“The nature of the construction industry is as such that there are many layers of contractors and subcontractors with their own workers,” he told TMR.
He also said employers should not be solely blamed for this and imposing penalties would not resolve the problem.
Instead, Shamsuddin said the government must continue to educate and enhance awareness programmes to employers and workers.
CIDB said all construction players must ensure their workers will be tested for Covid-19 three days in advance before entering any new sites.
The board said based on coinvestigation by CIDB and the MoH, the Damanlela cluster was transmitted due to the movement of workers from one site to another.
A CIDB spokesperson said it’s up to the National Security Council to make this move mandatory, while CIDB can only encourage contractors to do so.