Welding is an integral part of any construction industry. Without a blowtorch or electric arc joining pieces of steel together, there would be no condos or skyscrapers. Welding technology has also changed dramatically over the last decade to include lasers and robotics and requires certification and training to meet international standards.
While Cambodia’s construction industry may gradually be introducing some of these new welding technologies, the industry is lagging when it comes to training and implementing basic safety standards.
According to Alexandra Herbel, general manager of TÜV Rheinland, there are only about 20 certified welders in Cambodia out of the country’s reported 160,000 construction workers. This is simply because they haven’t had adequate training or fail to meet international standards.
“TÜV Rheinland carries out welding inspection services for construction companies in Cambodia as well as providing training and EN or AWS welding certification for welders. It is hard to pinpoint the exact figure, but we believe there are only about 20 welders who meet international standards in Cambodia,” Ms Herbel said.
“This is primarily because the welders have received insufficient training or the trainers have not been properly trained themselves. However, we are seeing companies starting to invest in education and safety measures to add value to their business, which of course is a positive for the industry,” she said. “They are beginning to realise the importance of meeting international safety standards by requesting inspections and upskilling their employees for the future of the industry.”
“For example, Vinci Construction, the main contractor on the airport extensions in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, are enforcing strict HSE rules as well as high quality building with systematic inspections. Hong Kong Land’s landmark building is equally enforcing strict onsite safety rules and inspections.”
While training and certification takes place, it does not mean that safety standards are being implemented or enforced. “One of the biggest problems Cambodia faces is the lack of regulation when it comes to construction and worksite safety. Most companies and workers know the rules, they just don’t comply because nobody enforces them. While there may not be official codes in place, there are international standards for the industry to follow in the interim. Most just choose not to follow or obey them,” she said.
Sorphea Sin, an internationally certified welding supervisor with TÜV Rheiland, knows about this all too well. A certified welder himself, who trains local staff here on the ground says many welders are not familiar with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
“Many welders have only used basic glasses on construction sites and have never had access to proper goggles, boots, jackets and arm protection. Some of them find the jackets very uncomfortable in the heat as they are not used to them and simply revert back to old ways of doing things. Because there is no enforcement, there is no way of controlling this and ensuring welders and companies comply,” he said. “On the otherhand, some welders would like the equipment to prevent injuries but their employers won’t or can’t provide it.”
David Welsh, country director of the Solidarity Center said that there was still a huge deficiency within the construction industry in dealing with workplace accidents and injuries. “Unless specific cases are brought to the attention of the Ministry of Labour, they are generally not reported,” he said.
“We have met with the Minister to raise the issue that all employers in the construction industry must register with the National Social Security Fund so that construction workers can be adequately compensated. At the moment companies within the garment industry must be registered, but it is also imperative that this happens within the construction industry. It is highly ironic that it is mandatory for the garment factory given the fact that the rate of incidence and death is so much higher in the construction industry,” Welsh said.
According to Alexandra Herbel, the welding industry, like other industries, needs to get used to a new way of doing things. “Once you are forced to do something over and over again you instinctively do it. On strict building sites who implement standards, you wouldn’t dare turn up without your protective gear. Enforcement really is the key here – even if there are laws in place, unless companies and individuals are made to follow these rules, things won’t change.”
This doesn’t have to rest all on the government’s shoulder’s either. Eurocham and the International Business Chamber (IBC) have been actively lobbying for the government to provide a mandate so that private entities can carry out inspections. “The government does not have to do this all on their own. We can work together to implement change,” Mr Herbel said.
Until new regulations are adopted and enforced, it seems sparks will continue to fly on construction sites with many workers still at risk. Passersby may even wish to invest in protective goggles as they walk past building sites that are not adequately fenced off to the public.