In the past fortnight, two construction accidents involving cranes have occurred, with one crane collapsing onto Rama II Road, one of the country’s busiest arterial roads.
At around 11pm on March 7, a crane toppled onto an outbound section of Rama II Road in Samut Sakhon province. It was pure luck that the accident occurred late at night when the road was less busy, and no injuries occurred. An initial investigation reportedly found that the pins used to fasten the structure of the crane platform had fallen off.
On Feb 27, at a construction site in Bangkok’s Chatuchak district, a huge crane towering 30 metres in height toppled onto construction workers who were building the official auditor-general’s office building. One person was killed and three injured.
These accidents only get a blip of media coverage and often draw little social attention. The response from the government is predictably bureaucratic — pressing charges at police stations and waiting for the justice system to sort things out. There are no proactive follow-ups by the Transport Ministry or the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to launch a country and city-wide campaign to inspect all cranes and guarantee there are public safety measures in place to make construction workers and the public feel confident they are safe when near a construction site. It would not be a surprise if the cases were forgotten altogether and the same contractor returned to provide its services.
This lack of regulation explains why accidents involving cranes happen again and again.
Between 2016-2019, before the pandemic disrupted building activities, 11 major accidents related to cranes were reported — a rate of three per year — according to the Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT). Needless to say, these cases were all major incidents that occurred in crowded areas or the middle of the city; it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the less serious ones went completely unreported by the media or received no official attention.
The most reported accident was on June 19, 2019, when part of a crane from an adjacent high-rise construction site fell on the roof of Assumption Convent School in Bang Rak district. Six months earlier (still in 2019), five construction workers were killed when a crane as high as a 10-storey building collapsed at the construction site of a high-rise condo on Rama III.
Cranes are extremely risky. It is estimated that there are 200 crane operators in the country, and according to a public interview in 2019 with Wuthinan Patamawisut, president of the EIT’s Sub-Committee on Crane and Lifting Engineering, more than 30% of these cranes have been in service for over 20 years in the kingdom and need to be replaced.
Sometimes, crane owners are unable to find spare parts to fix broken cranes because manufacturers overseas have already stopped producing them, according to the EIT. So, these owners resort to the terrifying process of making their own spare parts.
What is the government doing to improve safety and ensure that only well-maintained cranes by well-trained operators are used, and that old cranes are grounded for good? Safety engineers have proposed that the government develop systematic audits and blacklist irresponsible operators from working at construction sites in the kingdom. Sadly, all of these proposals have fallen on deaf ears.
With such irresponsible practices by the national and local governments, what is the public meant to do to ensure their safety?
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.