x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Clear responsibility on work-site safety

Clear legislation on workplace safety, company responsibility and liability, and insurance and compensation claims could save time and expense, not to mention offer better protections for employees.

Causing an accident that costs a life would be an enormous burden for anyone. For one Indian expatriate, however, that burden became more than just guilt or personal responsibility - it became an extended jail sentence because he did not have enough money.

As The National reported yesterday, Sakeer Hussain Kutty, who was sentenced to three months in prison for accidentally causing the death of a colleague in June 2008, ended up serving three years because he could not pay the blood money to the victim's family.

Mr Kutty's case shows not only a case of personal tragedy, but an unnecessary waste of resources: he lost three years of his life, the courts dealt with repeated hearings in the case and the state paid for his incarceration. There has to be a better way.

Clear legislation on workplace safety, company responsibility and liability, and insurance and compensation claims could save time and expense, not to mention offer better protections for employees. At present, companies are not legally required to obtain liability insurance. In cases where accidents happen at the workplace, there is often an ambiguity about who should be held responsible.

Window cleaners without harnesses; construction workers without hard hats; welders without masks: we have all seen the hazards just by walking by a work site. Regulations for construction site safety in particular have improved in recent years but accidents will always happen. The question is, what then?

As in Mr Kutty's case, there is a practical element: some employees may not be able to pay compensation in the case of workplace accidents.

And on principle, employers should be more accountable for accidents that happen on company time (and, it is worth noting, Mr Kutty's former employer did pay part of the compensation that got him out of jail). Workplace accidents happen in the course of company business; that confers a responsibility on companies for their employees' welfare in case of accident.

In part it was thanks to the generosity of an Indian charity and a removal firm that Mr Kutty was released. An admirable gesture, certainly, but it was an ad hoc solution. Work-site accidents will happen; companies should prepare for them beforehand.