|Workers without helmets are building a house in the Mekong province of An Giang's Chau Phu District. Experts say education on labour safety in Viet Nam is not strong enough. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Tung
by Minh Thi
HA NOI (VNS) — A number of workers were on a high scaffold removing the hanging decorative flowers in Trang Tien Street, one of the busiest streets in Ha Noi's central Hoan Kiem District.
They all wore a T-shirt with the logo of Tan Van Long Service and Commercial Ltd Co, a HCM City-based decoration and design company.
Barely half the workers were wearing protective helmets.
"It's hot," explained a bareheaded worker who declined to give his name.
His co-worker, Nguyen Tien Manh, confirmed that regulations stipulated that the workers should be wearing helmets. Yet even he was wearing a traffic helmet rather than regulated protective gear.
Such a scene is all too common –even in the centre of Ha Noi.
Nguyen Thi Dung, a designer who has worked for several construction companies in Ha Noi, said that workers often refused to wear safety harnesses as well because they "felt uncomfortable."
A construction manager at the Alcatel Lucent Company who declined to give his name said that while his company had strict rules about safety, small accidents sometimes happened because workers failed to follow those regulations.
Do Thi Thuy Nguyet, deputy head of the Labour Safety Department, pointed out that a large number of workers in highly risky industries such as construction and mining are untrained.
"Most of them are temporary workers who come from the countryside with a limited educational background," she said.
In construction, she revealed, the number of work accidents increased 2.7 times during the 2000-11 period and the number of deaths nearly doubled.
"Risks are everywhere," Nguyet said.
In addition to workers' careless attitude about personal safety, she added, many failed to follow standard construction procedures – such as checking safety equipment properly before starting construction.
Bui Hong Linh, Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, said work accidents happened more frequently in small or private companies than in State-owned or foreign-invested companies.
Last year, nearly 6,800 occupational accidents occurred, according to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.
These accidents reportedly caused property losses of VND11 billion (US$524,000) and compensation payments of VND83 billion ($3.95 million).
Over 600 workers died in work-related accidents – a year-on-year increase of 10 per cent.
Moreover, the reported cases are "incomplete", said Linh, who estimated the actual number of occupational accidents per year at around 40,000.
"Viet Nam lags behind many other countries, including most of its neighbours, in occupational safety and health," Linh said,
Mining, construction and the chemical industry saw the most occupational accidents and fatalities.
Work accidents and diseases in these industries had become more severe in recent years, said Nguyen Thai Hoa, the national project co-ordinator for occupational safety and health from the International Labour Organisation.
One could easily blame the situation on inspectors: according to Nguyet, there are barely 450 labour safety inspectors throughout the country, responsible for about 600,000 enterprises.
"The number of enterprises inspected in a year is insignificant compared to the actual number of enterprises currently operating," he said.
Hoa, however, pointed out that the Philippines had fewer safety inspectors than Viet Nam, but the labour safety situation there was better.
The solution, he said, might lie in educating children about work safety early on, rather than inspecting adults.
"Education about labour safety in Viet Nam is not strong enough given the severity of the problem," he said.
Deputy Minister Linh acknowledged that the labour safety inspection force was insignificant and stressed the importance of self-inspection within enterprises.
He said it would be best if each enterprise had its own labour safety inspector, in addition to "conducting labour safety training for their employees and developing a warning alert system on the spot."
Linh said the ministry was currently working with international organisations to improve the capacity of the inspection force.
He said the ministry was also working to develop a Labour Safety Law that would be submitted to the National Assembly in early 2015. — VNS