How construction boom is killing young men in Nairobi

By Gatonye Gathura

The ongoing construction boom in Nairobi has been blamed for high rates of accidents and loss of lives among young men.

Data from the Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), recorded 237 in a four-year period with 32 fatalities in Nairobi.

At the same time the data shows about 115 men aged 21-40 were serious seriously injured during the period some of them sustaining lifetime disabilities.

More than 70 per cent of injured or killed workers in accidents at construction sites in Nairobi were below 40 years.

The data is analyzed in a new study on the safety of construction sites in Nairobi by a team led by Raymond Kemei of the Kenya Army Corps of Engineers of the Kenya Defense Forces.

Most of the accidents the study shows occurred in Kasarani, Embakasi, Westlands and Kibera sub-counties in that order.

“Kasarani had the highest number of reported accidents while Kibera had the highest number of fatal accidents,” says the study in the September issue of the American Journal of Construction and Building Materials.

The data draws a link between a rush to meet deadlines and the ending of the national financial year to the frequency of accidents.

The highest number of accidents, the study show happens during the months of June and July more than doubling in the latter.

The authors including James Wambua Kaluli, Charles Kabubo of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology suggest pressure from the financial year calendar compromised safety measures at most sites.

“During this period, it appears that workers have to deal with multiple activities, creating a situation where workers and site supervisors are overworked, leading to accidents.”

On the other hand most construction site accidents in Nairobi, the study shows happen between 10.00 am – 1.00 pm, 37.6 per cent and 3.00 – 5.00 pm at 26 per cent.

“It’s established that most accidents occur around just before the workers take lunch break and it has been called lunch time effect,” says the study.

The study came up with 10 main reasons for the increasing number of accidents at construction sites on top of this being reluctance to invest in safety, lack of training in safety and failure by regulators to enforce safety regulations.

For example, while it is a requirement that project managers prepare a written and budgeted for safety plan almost all of the sites visited by the research team lacked such plans.

“Majority of construction companies in Nairobi, even with a budget of over half a billion shillings, allocate less than one per cent to health and safety per year,” explains the study.

While the law in Kenya requires every construction site to have safety officers to identify project risks this were almost nonexistent even in major construction sites.

DOSH on the other had lacks capacity to effectively supervise safety measures at construction sites in Nairobi having only a third of required employees during the study period.

The report comes at a time medical doctors have raised concern over increasing number of injuries being reported for emergency care.

For example, a recent report shows injuries are the second most common cause of patient visit to the emergency unit of Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) as well as Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Eldoret.

The report published in August by among others doctors at the Accident and Emergency Department, of KNH showed 23 per cent of visitors to the unit were as a result of injuries.

Topping cause of injuries reported at the unit are from traffic accidents, violence, burns and construction sites.

Led by Justin Guy Myers, of the University of North Carolina US, the study says increasing rate of injuries presents a new challenge to an already stretched emergency health system in Kenya.

The system for example, the study says suffers from serious transportation problems with 39 per cent of emergency patients to KNH likely to arrive by bus or matatu, 28 per cent walking and only 17 per cent by ambulance.


Cause of accidents at construction sites


Reluctance to invest in safety

Lack of training in safety management

Non enforcement of safety regulations

Workers not safety conscious

Lack of strict operational procedures

No personal protective equipment

Reckless operation of machines

Shortage of safety personnel on site

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