As Good As No Policy

As Good As No Policy

Lose Code Enforcement Exacerbates Construction Accidents

Construction plays a key role in Ethiopia’s growth narrative. Building construction, a core sub sector of the industry, plays a vital role in catalyzing the growth momentum.
Despite its promises, the safety of construction workers and residents remain problematic especially in big cities like Addis Ababa where massive construction projects are under way. In the current fiscal year alone, 22 people died and 34 workers were injured at construction sites in the capital due to the lack of safety measures.
The sector is plagued by negligence and poor capacity of contractors. Even though the country has a policy and code to ensure quality and safety, it’s not properly implemented due to mediocrity and institutional inefficiency of regulatory organs. EBR’s Ashenafi Endale explores the issue to offer this report.

On the late afternoon of April 12, 2017, Abebe Mekonnen and three of his colleagues were digging a latrine septic tank adjacent to a three storey building under construction inside the Holy Trinity Theology College around Arat Kilo in Arada District. When the depth of the tank reached close to two meters, the soil that was piled up at the edge of the hole collapsed on the four labourers, leaving Abebe dead while the rest injured.
Abebe, in his late thirties and the other labourers, did not use any safety equipment at the time of the accident, according to observers who witnessed the accident. Even when EBR visited the site the next day; workers did not wear helmet not to mention other safety equipment.
No or poor use of safety equipment in construction sites and subsequent accidents has become a growing concern of the city that is witnessing massive boom of construction. Information obtained from the Addis Ababa City Fire and Emergence Prevention and Rescue Agency, which arrived at the scene 45 minutes after the accident, reveals a shocking reality. During the current fiscal year alone, 22 people including Abebe died and 34 other labourers got injured at construction sites due to the lack of safety measures.
Had contractors and consultants adhered to the law that govern the construction of buildings and other infrastructural projects in the country, the lives of labourers such as Abebe could have been saved.
According to the directive issued to implement the building proclamation ratified in 2005 and amended in 2009, a construction worker shall enter a hole that is more than one meter in depth, only when safety at all insides and outside of the opening is secured. In addition, the soil that is dug up must be placed at least 1.2 meter away from the edge of the hole.
The directive also indicates that if the hole is more than two meters deep, it should have a ladder and use proper digging mechanism based on the result of the soil test. If the soil is loose and frail, the contractor must use technologies that keep the soil from falling back to the hole and keep it intact.
Construction contributes significantly to economic development, especially to developing countries like Ethiopia. The sector accounts around 8Pct of the national economy last year and its growth stood at 30Pct in the last five years. It also employs close to 1.2 million people, most of them young labourers.
This fast growth of the sector created opportunities which triggered a fast growth in the number of contractors. According to the information obtained from the former Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction, 7,259 building, road and general contractors were registered in June 2015. The figure was 2,966 five years ago.
There is a visible growth in the building construction sub sector in the past decade. More than 65,300 building permits were given to developers between 2009/10 and 2015/16. 73.12Pct of the permits were given in the States of Amhara, Oromia and Addis Ababa City Government. In the stated period, the above three members of the Ethiopian federation have issued 19,307, 16,277 and 12,552 permits respectively.
The phenomenal growth of the sector is, however, marred by some contractors with illegal document preparations to acquire business licenses. The loopholes at government agencies has exacerbated the situation in which some contractors indeed got business licenses based on false information and forged documents. The Ministry of Construction (MoC) is currently reviewing the issue.
Despite the boom in the sector, the safety of construction workers and residents also worsened especially in the capital Addis Ababa where massive construction projects – housing, road and buildings –are underway even in crowded areas due to negligence and limited capacity of contractors. The limited monitoring capacity and inefficiencies of regulatory institutions has exacerbated the problems.
Injuries related to construction work are serious problems worldwide. According to ILO, 125 million work related accidents occur annually in the world. Out of the total, 220,000 accidents lead to fatal results. In addition, 30-40Pct of the accidents cause chronic diseases and about 10Pct are likely to result in permanent disabilities.
According to a study entitled ‘Occupational Hazards in Construction Industry’ published in 2016, occupational injuries are increasing in Ethiopia due to dangerous working environment. The three leading occupational injuries sited in the study were wound (21.0Pct) followed by hand injury (11.3Pct), and back pain (9.7Pct). The major possible causes reported in the study were absence of protective devices (40.3Pct), lifting heavy objects (8.1Pct) and work burden (8.1Pct).
The Addis Ababa Building Permit and Control Authority is responsible for ensuring contractors and consultants adherence to the law of the city that govern the construction of buildings that are more than five storeys. Buildings that have less than five storeys, on the other hand, are overseen by the Authority’s branch offices at district levels.
Although the directive of the building proclamation gives a full mandate to the Authority, which extends until suspending construction activities when builders fail to abide by the law, officials say there are serious limitations in monitoring the effective implementations of the law which requires contractors to use safety elements to reduce accidents.
“Contractors fail to adhere to the law because meeting safety standards increase cost.” said Mulugeta Ligdi, Building Control Core Process Owner at the Authority.
Another aspect of the problem is the lack of capacity among the staff that follows up the implementation of the proclamation. Officials at the MoC underlined that the proclamation could not meet its objectives at country level due to this gap. “A lot remains to be done to properly implement the building proclamation,” stresses Meaza Gebrezghi, Director of Construction Code Preparation and Implementation Directorate at the MoC.
Even if the building proclamation instructs regions and city administrations to establish offices to implement the proclamation, information obtained from the ministry reveals that 71 towns have not established offices. In addition the proclamation stipulates that towns with more than 10,000 inhabitants have to comply with this requirement. Recent developments indicate that since the amendment of the proclamation in 2009, 177 towns have established offices.
According to Mulugeta the growing number of accidents at different construction sites is currently pushing the Authority to enforce contractors to purchase insurance policies when they request [construction] permit. However, “many contractors still start construction without purchasing insurance policies.”
Two types of insurance policies are needed to get construction start permit. In the case of the first type, the architect or designer of a construction project is required to purchase insurance in case of a structural collapse or any damages caused by design defaults. Architects are required to purchase insurance policies equivalent to 20Pct of the project cost if the total project cost is less than ETB2.5 million. If the project cost is more than ETB20 million, an insurance policy worth not less than 10Pct of the total project cost is needed.
The second insurance policy, which is expected to be purchased by the contractor, is employee liability insurance. Based on the types and costs of the building, the policy that is expected to be submitted by the contractor, varies from 20Pct to 30Pct of the project cost. In addition, this insurance policy should be purchased before starting constriction and remain valid for one year after the completion of the project.
So far, the compensation for life loss and injuries is settled through formal court proceedings and negotiations. For instance, Abebe’s family received ETB10,000 after a brief negotiation, according to Yetaye Melake, a friend of the deceased who took the body to his family.
Many question the effectiveness and fairness of such compensation mechanisms. “An autonomous body should be established to assess the damage, analyse the type and extent of the accident, decides the right compensation package and follow-up the settlement,” argues Meaza.
Meaza also stresses that there should be a mechanism that ensures if contractors get permits after they fulfil all the requirements. “Contractors that have limited financial capability tend to breach the law,” she argues. “However, the ‘system’ still allows such contractor to operate.”
Indeed, last month during a press briefing, Aisha Mohammed (Engi.) Minister of Construction revealed that 377 contractors were found operating with forgery documents, which contributes to the already escalating construction related accidents.
Officials say although the government revised its guideline and developed different directives, the construction work performance in building construction does not show progress.
Contractors EBR interviewed say that the situation cannot be addressed by their effort only. “Every contractor knows the standards but every safety measure requires additional cost that cannot be shouldered by the contractor,” argues Birhan Kassa, a contractor “If costs related to safety are included in the overall expense, you cannot win a single project in this country because clients prefer a contractor that undertakes construction at a minimum cost [at any cost].”
Birhan, for instance, mentioned that the use of wood made scaffolding is the common practice in Ethiopia. “There is no option if you cannot afford the metal one,” he argues. “Otherwise there must be cheap metal scaffolding available in the country.” He added.
Failure to implement the building proclamation is not the only factor contributing to the escalating risks and accidents. The existing specifications and standards outlined in the building code have been in place for so long without revision. They are also contributing to the problem. Despite the fast changing nature of the construction sector in the use of state-of-the-art construction materials, scientific methods as well as construction practices, the building code in Ethiopia have been in place for the last 21 years.
In order to accommodate these changing variables in the sector, the MoC recently introduced a new code in collaboration with the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology. The code, which was endorsed by the Ethiopian Standards Agency back in 2015, is adopted from European countries.
The code has specifications arranged in 26 parts that apply to structural design and architecture of buildings and other civil engineering works including construction safety, geotechnical aspect and structural fire design. It also covers basis for structural design as well as the design of concrete, steel and timber.
Meaza says preparations of the new code started in 2012 and involved 53 experts from the academia and the industry. It was readied for implementation four months ago. “However, higher learning institutions need to integrate it in their curriculum,” she says. “The new code needs to be communicated to stakeholders.”
Some of the engineers EBR talked to responded that they have no information about the new building code. On the other hand, the MoC says the code will be printed and distributed to stakeholders as soon as possible.
“We have planned to conduct extensive awareness creation activities and trainings about the new building code as well as the proclamation,” says Nahom Belachew, Public Affairs and International Relations Senior Officer at the Ministry.
The MoC is also preparing to launch five big programmes to build the capacity of local contractors. The programmes include trainings and construction machinery supply for contractors engaged in the building construction sub sector. “The larger part of the cost will be funded by the World Bank and other international financial institutions,” Nahom reveals. “At this moment, we are waiting for the release of the money and permission to go ahead from the government.” EBR

5th Year • June 2017 • No. 51

Ashenafi Endale

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