5th June 2019

Al Wakrah Stadium death could have been avoided

The fourth annual Workers Welfare Progress Report, published by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), outlines that 11 workers employed in connection with the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup died during the February 2018 to January 2019 period. The SC only considers one of those a ‘work-related fatality’. Tej Narayan Tharu died after a fall from height whilst working on Al Wakrah Stadium. It appears that his death could have been avoided.

The main contractor for Al Wakrah Stadium is MIDMAC, which is also the main contractor for Khalifa International Stadium. In January 2017, UK national Zak Cox died in similar circumstances at Khalifa International Stadium, after safety equipment failed. 

The fourth Report (PDF below – click if it doesn’t display) details an investigation into the death of Tej, a 23 year old Nepalese scaffolder. On page 43, it details: failure to secure and use personal protective equipment (PPE) effectively; failure to follow the correct procedures, policy and practice; a failure to identify hazards and risks; inadequate guards and barriers; inadequate or improper protective equipment; inadequate preparation and planning; inadequate leadership and/or supervision; inadequate engineering; inadequate tools and equipment; and inadequate commutation.

‘As a consequence of the findings, the site project manager, the construction supervision consultant, the main contractor and relevant OCPs were instructed by SC’s management to remove, with immediate effect, several key staff including senior health and safety managers’, reads the Report. ‘The main contractor was also required to provide a full corrective action plan. All other projects across the programme were also required to submit plans with measures to prevent similar occurrences.

‘Following investigations undertaken by government authorities, the Qatar Public Prosecution filed charges against a number of parties. The case was referred to the First Instance Criminal Court on 5 November 2018 and, as at the date of publication of this report, the hearings are ongoing. Two global changes have been implemented to the SC programme requirements as a result: workers at height must have two forms of fall protection; and contractors must maintain a working at height activity register.’

Similar concerns were outlined by Brighton-based Coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley in an inquest into Cox’s January 2017 death. “Many managers knew and should have known they were effectively requiring a group of workers to rely on potentially lethal equipment”, she said, reported The Guardian in February 2018. “If you cut to the quick, the root cause of the accident was that the workers were being asked to use equipment that was not fit for purpose. Horribly simple, really.”

The newspaper outlined that a Report was produced by Qatari authorities within 11 days of Cox’s death, but was not made available to his family by the Stadium’s contractors. It is understood that the Report outlined similar failures to those which led to the death of Tej. It is understood that the Report was obtained by lawyers acting for Graham Vance, a colleague of Cox’s, who was detained by Qatari authorities on charges of negligence. 

‘Two fatalities have occurred on our sites since construction began – Anil Kumar Pasman in October 2016 and Zachary Cox in January 2017’, read the SC’s Third annual Workers’ Welfare Report (PDF below – click if it doesn’t display). ‘We have taken actions to ensure these incidents are never repeated’. 

The above Report doesn’t appear to mention what action was taken following these two deaths. It outlines that following any work-related fatality, measures are taken to guarantee that ‘families of the deceased are promptly contacted by the employer’, and ‘counselling is provided to all workers affected by the fatality’. As mentioned, it would appear that Cox’s family were not contacted following his death and rather than receiving counselling following his colleague’s death, Vance was blamed and detained. 

The Reports above don’t mention any corrective action required from the contractors at Khalifa International Stadium in relation to Cox’s death, only corrective action following Tej’s death. Had corrective action been implemented following Cox’s death, then perhaps Tej’s death could have been avoided.

Other deaths

All of the eleven fatalities outlined in the fourth Report were under 50 years old, seven were under 40, and three were under 30. Five of the deaths were attributed to acute respiratory failure; three were due to heart failure (one of whom died during surgery); one was due to cardio-respiratory failure; and one worker died after being struck by a car during ‘recreational time’. Three of the workers were labourers; two were stonemasons; and the others comprised a cook, electrician, helper, pipe fitter, and a rigger. 

All eleven were migrant workers. Five were Bangladeshi, three were Indian and three were Nepalese. Details are listed on page 45 of the fourth Report. A similar profile emerges in the Third Report, where seven fatalities were reported from March 2017 to January 2018, five of which were not considered work-related. All five of these deaths were due to heart failure; three involved workers who were over 50 and one was under 20; three were Indian and the two others were from Bangladesh and Nepal.

‘In the majority of cases, the WWD H&S [Workers Welfare Department Health & Safety] team investigation identified that these workers either had a history of chronic illness such as diabetes, hypertension, or thyroid, or there was no history of the workers receiving a comprehensive medical health screening’, reads the Third Report. The Fourth Report outlines that since February 2018, all workers receive health screenings before they are allowed to join SC projects. However, it also outlines that ‘peak workforce’ is expected in 2019, and it would appear that the number of workers dying from ‘non-work’ issues such as respiratory and heart failure is growing, and those dying from such complications are getting younger.

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