May 20 2013
“The heat in the rubble was sweltering. It closed in on his body like the darkness around him, making it hard to breathe. Working by the faint glow of a flashlight, he slithered through the broken concrete and spotted a beautiful young woman, her crushed arm pinned beneath a pillar. She was dying, and the only way to get her out was to amputate.”
This is not an extract from a novel, but an actual event recorded in the opening paragraph of Chris Blake’s article written just after the April 24th collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh. Interestingly, our protagonist had had no training, either in medicine or rescue, but showing enormous courage crawled into the dangerously precarious ruins and on finding a trapped woman did what was necessary to free her. Saiful Islam Nasar, our hero, is a mechanical engineer who rushed from his home in the south of the country to help when he heard that hundreds of garment workers had been trapped in the building’s rubble.Chris Blake’s article continues by outlining the heroism of other ‘everyday citizens’ at the scene of the building’s collapse. These tales are heartening, but unnecessary. Rudimentary safety standard adherence would have avoided this and other disasters. Just at the beginning of April, in Thane, India, a residential building, which was being constructed illegally, collapsed killing 74 people. Since 2007 eighteen bridges have collapsed in China killing 135. The list goes on. The absence, laxity or violation of safety standards and construction laws is ultimately responsible, but this alone cannot account for the continued spate of structural disasters. Substandard building materials, shortcuts, the employment of cheap, unqualified workers, dishonesty, high level corruption, negligence and greed must all bare the brunt of responsibility as must the perpetrators. In the Thane incident alone 22 people were arrested, including builders, police officers and municipality officials.An example of a construction disaster follows (thanks to Brett Christensen of Hoax-slayer.com). It is a visual narrative which illustrates how questionable planning, faulty foundations and the lack of an environmental assessment resulted in the collapse of this 13 story building in suburban Shanghai, China, in June 2009. It killed one worker.The apartment building was constructed without a basement and with hollow concrete pilings.The plan called for an underground garage which was being dug to a depth of 4.6 meters on the south side of the building.The excavated soil was being piled up on the north side of the building and had reached a height of 10 meters.This resulted in the building experiencing an uneven lateral pressure.Heavy rains fell and the water seeped into the ground.The building began to tilt in a southerly direction due to the uneven lateral pressure of 3,000 tonnes. Consequently the hollow concrete pilings snapped.With no basement, and tied down to pilings with no rebar/reinforcing steel, it had no chance.The more recent Bangladeshi factory collapse, the worst industrial incident in the country’s history, brought the horror of construction error into our homes daily for some time. For employees at EIT and IDC Technologies based in Perth, Australia, however, this may have had an added edge. We have been persevering with our work during the construction of a second floor built ‘into’ the existing office. I say ‘into’ with purpose - the space was there just asking for the addition.Working with the building company and trying to drag the plans through council was frustrating, but with the rawness of recent events one must feel grateful to a system which strives for good practice. The stop and think hurdles and scrutiny by experienced people in construction will allow us to rest a little easier as we spread ourselves out into the new space.We in the Perth office have endured dust, noise and horribly cramped quarters for approximately eight weeks. A tribute must go to all those who have tolerated it rather equably and soldiered on.