x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Justice just a piece of job site safety

Identifying and punishing the negligent is one way to lower the construction-accident toll. But frequent inspection and consistent enforcement must not be subordinated to mere scapegoating.

When events conspired to take the lives of four construction workers at the weekend, it was clear that swift action was needed to protect others. Less than a week later, four building-site employees have been detained on charges of negligence.

This week alone, two scaffolding accidents at two major building sites in the capital and in Dubai killed four men and injured over a dozen more. In both cases, members of the construction team have been detained and their cases referred to the Public Prosecution.

If any of these deaths was the result of criminal negligence then justice must and will be served. Sorting out the details is the job of the police and the courts, and by all accounts they are doing their jobs.

But discrepancies in the prosecution of past death cases suggests there is a tendency to rush investigations. As a result, cases often fall apart at trial.

In 2010, for example, prosecutors charged a restaurant head chef and a hotel manager with negligence that led to the death of a man from food poisoning. Judges later exonerated them, ruling that instead a doctor should have been charged for prescribing medicine without a proper diagnosis. The case eventually collapsed on a technicality.

In another recent case, the foreman of one company was arrested for reporting the death of a worker at another, simply for being in the wrong place when police arrived. That case also fell apart in court.

These cases suggest the process of evidence gathering, and explaining pre-trial criteria for liability, needs clarification. Moreover, police need better training in evidence gathering and procedures for arrests.

Construction workers deserve a renewed push to protect them - from acts of nature, poor judgement or shoddy equipment.

But more fundamentally, legal processes must evolve to deal with the outcome of tragedies when and where they occur. Authorities would do well to lay out clear-cut criteria for liability, the responsibilities of each person - at the construction site, in the restaurant or elsewhere. Knowing who is responsible for what is the best way to ensure due process.