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Shroud of concrete: Building collpase confirmed Phuket's worst workplace disaster

Shroud of concrete: Building collpase confirmed Phuket's worst workplace disaster

PHUKET: Officials this week were still pursuing legal action over seven workers being crushed to death by a concrete roof that fell on them while they were eating lunch at an illegal worksite last Thursday (Nov 21).

constructiondeathdisastersMyanmareconomicscrimepolice
By The Phuket News

Saturday 30 November 2019, 09:00AM


Rescue workers at the scene of the collapse. Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub

Rescue workers at the scene of the collapse. Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub

The incident happened shortly before midday at the site of a petrol station being built alongside Thepkrasattri Rd in Srisoonthorn, north of the Heroines Monument.

Wiang Suwanna, Chief of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) office in Phuket, confirmed that the roof collapse – of a single-story office building under construction at the site – was the worst workplace safety incident on record in Phuket.

Teams of rescue workers arrived quickly after being informed of the disaster at about 1:20pm, but took hours before they could recover the bodies of all seven victims: Thai nationals Mr Jirachai Wonghajak, 35; Mrs Pornpimon Waewwong, 21; Mr Krisana Kanbuth, 33; and Mr Thaweewat Daetphan, 29; and Myanmar migrant workers Mrs Kay Thi Khaing, 28; Mr Nay Myo Win, 29; and Mr Sa Aung Aung, 30.

Two workers – Myanmar national Mrs Myo Myo Yi, 26, and Thai national Mr Jaturawit Muadsing, 34 – escaped with their lives, but were rushed to hospital with injuries.

Speaking at the site after the final body was recovered at about 6:40pm last Thursday, Vice Governor Wongsakorn Nunchukan confirmed that construction at the site was not approved by Srisoonthorn Municipality.

Srisoonthorn Mayor Worawut Songyot wasted no time in having his officers file a criminal complaint before the sun set earlier that day.

“The municipality has reported this to Thalang Police and I will prosecute the company for breach of the Building Control Act,” he told The Phuket News last Friday.

Tasked with investigating the collapse, Maj Wuttichai Thongkaew of the Thalang Police confirmed in his initial report that Srisoonthorn Municipality had issued a ban on construction at the site by written order on Nov 6.

According to his initial report, the collapse occurred due to the earth beneath the supporting pylons shifting, leaving the pylons unable to support the weight of the roof. At 12 meters long, seven meters wide and 15cm-thick, the concrete slab that collapsed onto the workers weighed an estimated 26 tonnes.

Maj Wuttichai identified Chuchart Palasuwan, the 44-year-old Managing Director of The Blue Phuket Co Ltd, as directly involved in the incident.

“On the day of the accident, Mr Chuchart hired two electricians, three glaziers and four Myanmar nationals as cement workers to work at the site,” he noted in his report.

In less than 24 hours, Thalang Police had a warrant for Mr Chuchart’s arrest.

“By his acts of negligence, Mr Chuchart’s actions were wrong. His acts of negligence caused the deaths of others and seriously injured people under Sections 291 and 300 of the Thai Criminal Code,” said Thalang Police Deputy Chief Lt Col Anukul Nuket.

“And after the building collapsed onto the workers, Mr Chuchart did not contact the investigating officers. The [company] office was closed.

“On the day of the incident, he did not provide provide assistance to those injured or killed.

“Investigation officers from the Thalang Police have tried to track him down, but they now believe he has fled. Hence, the officers requested a warrant for his arrest,” Lt Col Anukul explained last Friday.

However, instead of fleeing as criminal fugitive, Mr Chuchart presented himself at Thalang Police Station at 9am Monday.

“I informed Mr Chuchart of the charges against him, which he denied,” Lt Col Anukul said. “He asked to be released on bail while the investigation continues, but I declined to him to be able to post bail while in police custody.”

Mr Chuchart was released by the Phuket Provincial Court on Monday evening after posting B1 million surety, Lt Col Anukul later confirmed.

Before surrendering to police, Mr Chuchart had his brother, Kanongdet Palasuwan, over the weekend present to the families of the seven killed in the collapse B10,000 each to cover funeral expenses, as well as B10,000 to each of the workers injured to help pay medical expenses, as confirmed by Mr Kyaw Soe Wai, the Labor Attaché at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, who arrived in Phuket on Monday to follow up on the investigation and support for the victims and their families.

Mr Kyaw inspected the construction site, joined by representatives of the Andaman Friendship Association and the Phuket Contractors Association, among other local organisations.

Mr Kyaw then went to the Phuket Social Security Office and visited workers’ camps in Wichit, then attended the joint funeral of Mr Nay Myo Win and Mrs Kay Thi Khaing at Wat Kosit Wiharn north of Phuket Town. The two were cremated Tuesday (Nov 26).

The body of Mr Sa Aung Aung, 30, the third Myanmar worker killed in the collapse, was cremated last Sunday (Nov 24).

The last time Mr Kyaw was in Phuket was just three months ago, when he attended the funerals of three Myanmar workers killed in the scaffolding collapse at a construction site in Rawai.

Before Mr Kyaw’s arrival, key national worker safety figures Wanarat Srisuksai, Director of the Bureau of Occupational Safety and Health under the Ministry of Labour’s Department of Labour Protection and Welfare (DLPW), and DLPW Inspector-General Anan Bowonnaowarak had inspected the site last Friday, less than 24 hours after the collapse.

Cassia Phuket

“At the moment, the Phuket Social Security Office is accelerating the examination of various rights regarding remedies,” Mr Wannarat assured during his inspection.

“The employers will be called for questioning to enforce the regulations in order to compensate the injured according to their social security rights.

“The families of the deceased will receive compensation of more than B700,000 baht per person [killed], while those injured will have all their medical expenses taken care of and they will receive compensation for being unable to work due to their injuries,” he added.

IRREGULARITIES

Marasri Jairangsri, Chief of the Phuket branch of the Social Security Office (SSO), on Tuesday confirmed that Mr Chuchart’s brother, Mr Kanongdet, had arrived at the SSO on Monday (Nov 26) to pay a B100,000 fine for failing to register four Thai workers who died in the collapse – Mr Jirachai; Mr Thaweewat; Mrs Pornpimon; and Mr Krisana – and for failing to register Mr Jaturawit, who was injured in the incident.

Mr Chuchart was fined the maximum per unregistered worker, Mrs Marasri confirmed.

Also fined was Andaman Design Limited Partnership, which hired four Myanmar workers at the site.

Andaman Design hired Mrs Kay Thi Khaing, and Mr Nay Myo Win. Both were killed in the building collapse, but both were already registered with the SSO, Mrs Marasri explained.

However, Andaman Design also hired Mr Sa Aung Aung, who was killed in the collapse, and Mrs Myo Myo Yi, 26, who was injured. Both had not been registered with the SSO, she confirmed.

Andaman Design was fined B40,000 for each of the Myanmar workers not registered.

Mrs Marasri declined to reveal any details of Andaman Design, including who the main partners are, who paid the fine and whether the firm hired any other Myanmar workers at the site who may or may not have been registered.

However, she did explain that Mr Chuchart was fined only B20,000 per unregistered worker – not B40,000 as levied against Andaman Design – because he had hired the workers personally, not through any form of registered business.

Andaman Design also settled their account with the SSO on Monday, Mrs Marasri confirmed.

Further enforcing the legal requirement of having workers registered with the SSO has come only by way of request.

Mrs Marasri explained, “Todsaphon Kritwongwiman, Secretary-General of the Social Security Office in Bangkok, told me to tell Wirachai Setsom, President of Phuket Construction Contractors Association, to tell his members that Phuket employers must register their workers with the Social Security Office…

“Specifically Myanmar employees who work in Phuket, they must be registered. If they [the employers] do not, they will be charged by law.” she said.

However, Mrs Marasri did not clarify whether any employers – notably construction contractors – would be fined if they presented themselves immediately for not registering their Myanmar workers.

Mrs Marasri said she was unable to confirm how many other migrant labourers from Myanmar or other countries were not registered with the SSO.

Yet, Phuket Provincial Employment Office Chief Kattiya Pandech only in August told a labour rights conference that Phuket is currently home to 70,986 migrant workers, comprising 68,812 Myanmar nationals, 1,133 Laotians, 970 Cambodians and 71 Vietnamese.

The conference, held at the Merlin Phuket Hotel on Aug 20, was called to remind employers that they had until Nov 11 to submit the applications to allow their registered migrant workers to continue staying in the country and work legally.

The Nov 16 deadline was laid down by Cabinet resolution on Jan 16, with the same resolution ordering that migrant worker registration assistance centres be set up throughout the country, including in Phuket, to facilitate the registration of migrant workers specifically from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, Mr Kattiya explained.

Meanwhile, OSH Phuket Chief Mr Wiang told The Phuket News on Wednesday, “Today is the deadline for The Blue Phuket Co Ltd and Andaman Design to present themselves to me to explain what happened.

“I specified to meet with Mr Chuchart, I am not required to see Mr Kanongdet, his brother. Mr Chuchart is well known for what he has done,” said Mr Wiang.

“I will send an official notice calling them both to see me next week about about the safety and security measures at this worksite,” he said.

Reporting by Tanyaluk Sakoot and Eakkapop Thongtub

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