Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

19 and counting

Accidents happen, but it is possible to prevent a repeat of the tragedies. Prevention is the purpose of laws and regulations setting safety standards in buildings and construction sites. When 19 workers have died in the same site over many months, fate cannot possibly be the only culprit.

Last Sunday morning, the Korean foreman of Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp.-Philippines died after being run over by a forklift that was being driven by a worker near a metal assembly shop at the Hanjin shipyard in Subic. Choi Dong-baek was the first Korean to die at the shipyard, and the 19th fatality at the site. His death came just two days after the metal base of a newly installed door fell on Raldon del Rosario. The 19-year-old worker died immediately while fellow worker Camalao Bochie suffered leg injuries.

The accidents paint a picture of a worksite where no one seems to be looking where he’s driving and no one is tasked to act as a lookout for operators of heavy equipment. Being run over by a forklift and being hit by a collapsed door base smack of the absence of supervision and gross negligence in a workplace. And there will be more fatalities if no one enforces safety rules.

The task of enforcement should belong to the entity that has jurisdiction over the shipyard – in this case, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. If the SBMA cannot or does not want to handle the job, the local government should step in.

If no one in that area wants to touch one of the largest shipyard operators in the world, perhaps President Arroyo herself should appoint herself Subic Bay micro-manager. The task of enforcing safety rules in one shipyard should be easier for her than tackling climate change or going after large-scale drug traffickers who curiously keep eluding her anti-narcotics agents. Or is a shipyard operated by a foreign-controlled company also cloaked with diplomatic immunity, like the secrets protected by executive privilege in cases such as the broadband deal with ZTE Corp.?

Philippine safety standards cannot be set aside in any part of the country. Lives, not dirty money, are at stake at the Hanjin shipyard, and safety standards should be strictly enforced. The death toll at the shipyard must not be allowed to rise.

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