The construction site disaster that occurred on Saturday morning was a tragedy that has struck a raw nerve in society. Within hours, concerned citizens have voiced out their anxiety in various ways – some constructive and some critical. Unfortunately, many have based their judgements on a lot on pre-mature postulations formed by various media outlets and of course, perpetuated by political opportunists.
In tragedies, facts and thorough understanding in its entirety are direly needed. We simply cannot afford to succumb to this unhealthy guessing game and prolonged finger pointing. It is not fair to the victims and detrimental to progress.
On 22 October 2017, Penang Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) director, Rosdee Yaakob affirmed that the landslide was in fact a construction accident. Reiterating this, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye who is the current chairman for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) said “the incident was an example of how safety measures were being disregarded at construction sites” and added that assessments should have been made immediately, when or if soil erosion have been identified. (1)
The Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) has identified approximately 16,800 construction sites within Malaysia. Based on the occupational accidents report (as of July 2017), there have been 2430 accidents and 143 fatalities recorded. Such occupational accidents are most likely due to an almost non-existent safety culture and non-compliance of the requirements of Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 1994. According to DOSH, the construction and manufacturing industry accounted for 37% and 22% of all fatal injuries. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 (OSHA), the construction site are responsible for ensuring that safe practices within sites are administered.
A number of citizens and members of civil society have made several hasty conclusion by producing sweeping statements like “development at hill land above 250 feet and/or with a slope gradient beyond 25 degrees should not be allowed” thus implying that the Tanjung Bungah development was a hill-slope development and influencing others to believe that the Penang State Government failed to comply to guidelines.
In a recent statement by Ir. Dr Tan Yean Chin who is the current President for the Malaysian Institution of Engineers (an institution that has over 40,000 members and affiliated to several international engineering organisations and field experts) he stated that based on observations “the Tanjung Bungah Development was not built on a hill slope, rather on the land adjacent to the hill slope”, thus, debunking the perception that the project was a ‘hill-site development”. The project involved ‘slopes with a gradient of about 20 degrees’ classifying this site as a Category 2 slope (15 to 25 degrees) thus categorizing it as a low land (tanah rendah) and not hill land (tanah bukit). Furthermore, the land contour of the project area, varied between 18 metres and 40 metres, which is well within acceptable limits. (2)
To date, the Penang State Government and Penang Island City Council has taken all necessary steps to facilitate crisis management: The Penang Island City Council has lodged a police report against the consultant of the affordable housing project and a stop work order was issued immediately, building contractor and consultant experts of the project have been blacklisted and confidential documents have been declassified. A State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) have been established and will take on the tedious task of determining the causes of failure, study and propose improvements to be implemented and recommend just punishment to those responsible. Heading the SCI will be Dato’ Yeo Yang Poh who is the former President of the Malaysian Bar Council and two other highly esteemed geotechnical experts – Professor Ir. Dr. Haji Ramli Nazir from UTM and Dato’ Ir. Dr. Gue See Sew .
Members of public must be made aware that Penang has stricter hill slope development guidelines compared to the rest of the country and contrary to what is perceived at the moment, the Penang State Government does not allow any developments on hill land above 76 metres – well different than the current national guidelines limits which is set at 300 metres.
It definitely is counterproductive to compare this construction accident to past tragedies like the Highland Towers, Selangor and the landslides that occur quite frequently in Cameron Highlands. The current slew of accusations is misleading and deceptive. Moreover, without knowing the right facts, we will not be able to make well-informed decisions or facilitate fairness to uphold social justice and hold those responsible accountable for the innocent lives lost. There is a difference between fair game and playing games, therefore, it would be best for all quarters to refrain from commenting further and allow investigations to be carried out – let justice prevail in all its form and let the truth be known.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID