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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Qatar construction firms convicted of manslaughter, negligence in deaths

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Doha’s criminal court has ordered fines and compensation payments totalling more than QR1 million in recent weeks following at least five separate trials involving construction worker deaths in Qatar.

Three of the men died after falling from scaffolding or, in one case, a pit at an under-construction shopping center.

While it’s unclear if the cluster of cases is indicative of more stringent enforcement efforts or merely a coincidence owing to court scheduling, human rights activists say they hope the sanctions will prompt other construction companies to take workplace safety more seriously.

“If workers have been killed on worksites … those deaths need to be investigated,” Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri told Doha News.

Experts such as Qadri said many large multinational companies operating in Qatar, including those working on high-profile projects such as stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, adopt stringent safety standards.

Construction at Khalifa Stadium
Khalifa Stadium, for illustrative purposes only.

However, Amnesty and other organizations have long documented the comparatively dismal safety record of smaller, less prominent projects where workers sometimes lack adequate training, are not given helmets or are forced to purchase their own safety gloves.

Qadri said criminally prosecuting negligent construction companies would likely have “a very strong impact” on the industry’s safety record. He argued that businesses avoid crossing legal “red lines” when they know rules are strictly enforced.

“When Qatar applies the law, people don’t flout the law,” he said.

Cases

Recently released court documents paint a partial picture of several cases that concluded within the last month or so.

  • On Dec. 30, 2015, Ashtar Trading Co. was fined QR100,000 and ordered to pay QR200,000 in blood money compensation to the inheritors of a deceased laborer who died at work. No details were available about the circumstances of the man’s death, and the company could not be reached for comment.
  • The same day, Tanmiyya Qatari Co. was fined QR50,000 and three individuals were each ordered to pay QR10,000 for negligence after a worker on a scaffold fell to his death. During the trial, witnesses testified that the man had started work before the arrival of the foreman and was not wearing a helmet.

Lower criminal court in Doha
Lower criminal court in Doha

  • In late 2015, two construction companies working on a shopping center were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, fined QR10,000 each and ordered to jointly pay QR200,000 in blood money compensation to a deceased worker’s family. The individual died at night after falling into a pit in a poorly lit area that lacked safety barricades and signage. The court heard the worker was also not wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Also in late 2015, the court convicted a contracting company of involuntary manslaughter, fined it QR200,000 and ordered it to pay QR200,000 in blood money compensation to the family of an Asian man who died after falling from a scaffold on what was supposed to be his day off. Additionally, a foreman was found guilty of negligence because he wasn’t present on the construction site and ordered to pay a QR10,000 fine.

In a fifth case, the manager of a construction company was acquitted on charges of negligence late last year for failing to set up sufficient barriers and warning signs at a large project on Al Shamal Road.

A worker fell into a pit at the construction site and suffered fractures to his neck and left arm. However, the court found that the man put himself in harm’s way by talking on his cell phone while he walked and failed to pay adequate attention to his surroundings.

Earlier this year, construction firms were fined following fatalities on projects at the Pearl-Qatar and Old Airport.

Labor inspectors

While Amnesty’s Qadri said he welcomed the criminal investigations into these cases, he said detailed and open reporting on workplace injuries and deaths is still needed so experts can identify solutions to prevent such incidents from happening in the first place.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

While government investigators “blacklisted” hundreds of firms last year, banning them from applying for government contracts or hiring additional staff, no details were provided about the nature of the labor law transgressions.

Qatar has been gradually been hiring additional labor inspectors and recently announced that it now employs 350 individuals. Qadri previously called the size of the workforce “obviously inadequate” given the amount of construction taking place across the country.

But he added this week that the robustness of inspections and the strength of enforcement powers are more important than the sheer number of labor inspectors.

“The mere fact that there are 350 inspectors is nothing something to applaud.”

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