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Mid-day break violations put workers at risk.

MUSCAT: With the mercury already hovering in the mid 40s range, and with June inching closer, some construction workers may be in real danger of serious health risks, as some companies give the mid-day break rule the go-by.

The Ministry of Manpower last year issued a directive to construction companies to cease work at all sites between 12.30pm and 3.30pm, from June to September. The mid-day break aims at providing relief to workers from the oppressive summer temperatures.

However, lack of inspections and vague penalties are making it difficult for the workers, construction supervisors and human-rights activists say.

"The summer months are quite hard. Workers feel dizzy from the heat and they often faint, causing serious injuries. Last summer, most of the sites were allowing just one-hour break, from 1 to 2pm, ignoring the ministry order," Santosh Mohan, 42, a construction supervisor at Seeb, said.

A statement from the Ministry of Labour had clearly said after the issuing of the summer break decree that "necessary legal and punitive action will be taken against those who fail to abide by the provisions of the summer lunch break".

A majority of injuries to workers are reported during the summer months, said Hussein Al Lawati, 42, the general manager of Capital Manpower Services, a company that provides workers to construction firms. He urged the government to earmark specific penalties for offending companies and called for surprise inspections at construction sites.

"The ministry should issue a statement giving the details of the punishments for offenders. Written warnings are not enough; hefty fines, and even the revoking of the business licences of the persistent violators, are called for,"

Lawati said.

He also urged the government to ask employers to train their labourers to understand the impact of heat stress on their health and safety. "It's also important for them to understand how heat exhaustion can be prevented. Training must be made compulsory for workers so they can cope with heat stress," Lawati argued.

Government safety inspectors, too, agree that workers were being exposed to extreme high temperatures while working in enclosed workplaces that do not have air conditioning.

"Some of them work in warehouses, workshops and generator rooms that do not have cooling facilities. They get severely dehydrated, cramped, and even suffer psychological problems," Ahmed Al Mauli, a safety inspector at Muscat Municipality, a government agency monitoring the workers' conditions, said.

High-rise buildings are more prone to accidents during the summers as compared to other properties because of the larger number of workers, said Raj Parekh, a construction consultant. "The high-rise building I am supervising has more than 70 workers, compared to only six workers at an average villa. We normally have five to seven workers fainting every month during the summer," he pointed out.

Most of the construction workers in Oman come from South Asian countries, according to statistics of the Ministry of Manpower. Out of the country's 900,000 foreign workers in the private sector, more than a third are employed in the construction sector alone.

Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2011

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:May 24, 2011
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