...What comes next? The life of a Global Governance Master's student
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Each day, walking out of my alley onto the main road I pass by a construction site for a typical Vietnamese house – extremely tall, skinny walls made of only brick, and the strangest building methods I have ever witnessed. I would not call these construction methods “to code” in the least bit. However, I have no doubt that the apartment I am sitting in right now was built the same way. This is one example of how something not so conventional, and very dangerous, really does work in Vietnam.
You walk by a construction site and the first thing you see are the workers. These individuals are wearing plastic sandals (no socks either so why expect to see steel-toe boots), no work gloves, and when the construction projects are smaller-scale (a house or small apartment building), no helmets either. An oxymoron from the signs seen posted on construction sites saying: ‘An Toan la Het’, which means ‘Safety First’. There are seemingly no regulations. Walking by construction sites with co-workers they are always the first people to warn us of what is going on. They always say that these zones are very unsafe and many injuries occur. Well, obviously injuries occur. There are next to no barriers to block pedestrians from the construction (one in five sites will have a tarp covering half of it).
Building equipment used is another issue completely. Tree stumps and branches are used to support the concrete while it sets. Also, while lots of rebar is used to strengthen these buildings, concrete is a very temperamental product and the method of mixing it on the street seems to be testing fate. To carry cement and other materials to a higher level a small motor is run by a worker at the ground floor and is brought up by a small cable (one brick at a time). There is a surprising amount of high-rise building workers who do not wear safety harnesses – as a way to cut costs.
Le Back Hong, deputy minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, explains the lack of safety precautions. He said, fines for work safety violations were too small and some contractors flouted the rules. Under current regulations, each violation is subject to a fine of approximately VND 200,000. This translates to about US$ 10.00. Clearly the incentive to enforce any type of safety regulations is minimal. The Ministry of Health did a survey on accidents in the labour force and numbers were astounding. It is recorded that accidents at construction sites made up 60 per cent of the total labour accidents last year. Approximately 80 percent of those surveyed said working conditions were ‘very bad’, while only 20 percent recorded standards as being met.
However, with all these problems and dangers associated with construction in Vietnam, the systems each construction team have in place seems flawless, when I try viewing it through non-judgmental eyes, and is almost a perfected art (it would need to be to pass the test of time). Not to mention the shear speed at which projects are completed. This may be due to the fact that most of the crews build shanties at the construction site and live there for the duration of the project. This gives them the ability to work around the clock if they want. Personally, I have heard the sounds of construction as late as 1:30am. This is just one example of how, even under terrible conditions the world keeps moving, and buildings keep going up.