DUBAI // A father who watched in horror as his four-year-old son plunged 5.5 metres down an open manhole at Dubai Mall is demanding swift changes to the mall's health and safety regulations to ensure it never happens again.
Shahid Mahmood, a British father of three, was watching a small fountain display on Saturday with his daughter Khadija, six, and Zayn, four, when Zayn fell down the concrete shaft. The youngster was lucky, receiving only minor injuries - facial bruising and a cut finger - after a ladder broke his fall. Mr Mahmood believes the manhole cover was removed during the display by a worker who was preparing to carry out routine maintenance on the water feature.
"I turned to see this huge hole behind my son," he said. "I went towards him to get hold of him but he had already stepped back." The worker was inside the hole getting safety barriers to place around it when the accident happened. Mr Mahmood wants the mall to exercise tighter control over the safety measures applied by all sub-contractors working on the site. A statement issued on behalf of the mall said its management team was in regular contact with the family and was running its own investigation into the incident.
Mr Mahmood said an offer by Dubai Mall to pay Zayn's medical expenses was unnecessary. Describing the moment he saw Zayn fall "like a rag doll" down the hole, he said: "Everything went into slow motion. It was surreal. Your son's fallen down a hole that wasn't there a minute ago." Luckily a ladder leading to the bottom of the concrete cavern broke the toddler's fall. "It was fortuitous we were standing that side. If he had fallen from any of the other three sides of the manhole he would have been dead, I'm sure," said Mr Mahmood, 36.
Relieved to hear Zayn scream, he climbed halfway down the manhole while calling out to his wife, Shahnaz - who was sitting just inside the mall entrance with their one-year-old child, Summayyal - and trying to ensure that his daughter Khadija was safe. "While all this was going on, the worker who was down below proceeded to pick up my son and bring him to the surface," he said. "I could see he was supporting his neck and he seemed OK. He was crying and there was lots of blood."
In the 30 minutes Mr Mahmood said it took for the ambulance to arrive at the scene - apparently it had difficulty reaching the accident spot because of height restrictions - numerous staff from Dubai Mall arrived but no one, he said, appeared to be trained in first aid. "Once the paramedics arrived they completely took control, putting the neck brace on, asking if he had been vomiting, asking if he felt dizzy, if he was steady on his feet, asking all the right questions."
Zayn was strapped on to a stretcher, given oxygen, attached to heart and blood pressure monitors and taken at the family's request to the American Hospital, where he underwent tests for internal bleeding, brain and spinal injuries. At 6pm he was given the all-clear and discharged. Dubai Police are investigating the incident, alongside a health and safety specialist from Dubai Municipality. Mr Mahmood said he did not want to see the worker lose his job.
"He was just as shocked as anyone and I know he had a part to play within it but I don't see how, in all of this, he could have done anything differently," he said. "I had to file a case or it would happen to someone else. I asked that the worker is not made a scapegoat, that he retains his job." Mr Mahmood says he is not interested in compensation. He simply wants assurances that safety regulations will be significantly tightened, also expressing concern about the lack of first-aid knowledge displayed by mall staff and the difficulties the ambulance faced in reaching them. He wants any "damages" that may be deemed appropriate to be donated to a children's charity.
"I feel my son's life has been saved and if someone else's son or daughter's life could be saved then that's the best that I can ask," he said. A senior member of the worker's sub-contracting firm, which is responsible for maintaining the fountain, arrived at the hospital with his wife to check on Zayn's condition, but no one at the company was available to comment. firstname.lastname@example.org