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International Journal of Occupational Safety and

Ergonomics

ISSN: 1080-3548 (Print) 2376-9130 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tose20

Accidents in Malaysian Construction Industry:


Statistical Data and Court Cases

Heap Yih Chong & Thuan Siang Low

To cite this article: Heap Yih Chong & Thuan Siang Low (2014) Accidents in Malaysian
Construction Industry: Statistical Data and Court Cases, International Journal of Occupational
Safety and Ergonomics, 20:3, 503-513, DOI: 10.1080/10803548.2014.11077064

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10803548.2014.11077064

Published online: 08 Jan 2015.

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International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics (JOSE) 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3, 503513

Accidents in Malaysian Construction Industry:


Statistical Data and Court Cases
Heap Yih Chong
Thuan Siang Low

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Safety and health issues remain critical to the construction industry due to its workingenvironment and the
complexity of working practises. This research attempts to adopt 2 research approaches using statistical data
and court cases to address and identify the causes and behavior underlying construction safety and health
issues in Malaysia. Factual data on the period of 20002009 were retrieved to identify the causes and agents
that contributed to health issues. Moreover, court cases were tabulated and analyzed to identify legal patterns
of parties involved in construction site accidents. Approaches of this research produced consistent results and
highlighted a significant reduction in the rate of accidents per construction project in Malaysia.
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accidents causes statistical data court cases construction industry Malaysia

1. Introduction results of a common questionnaire survey in this


area of research. Therefore, recorded data were
The construction industry has been identified as retrieved for the years 20002009. The data were
one of the most hazardous industries in many parts collected from the responsible local government
of the world, as measured by work-related mortal- agency, the Social Security Organization
ity, workers compensation, injury and fatality (SOCSO). This supports the first objective of this
rates [1, 2, 3, 4]. Safety at work is a complex phe- research, which is to identify the causes and agents
nomenon and a subjective area of study. This is of accidents in the Malaysian construction
because industrial safety has undergone significant industry.
changes over the past decade [5]. However, the The construction industry is a complex practise
construction sector is notable as it continues to reg- by nature due to fragmented working processes,
ister a high rate of accident-related casualties. Con- which involve many stakeholders. The responsibil-
struction workers who work within the construc- ities and obligations of each party tend to overlap
tion industry face a greater risk of fatality than during the course of accidents due to unclear pro-
workers in other industries [6, 7]. visions or regulations in construction contracts
To prevent accidents, one must know the causes [11]. Legal liabilities need to be investigated and
of accidents in the working environment such as identified through court cases related to safety and
inherently hazardous construction projects [4], per- health issues in the construction industry. This
sonal and project factors [8], and mechanisms or could suggest certain prevention techniques
equipment that lead to accidents [9, 10]. Statistical regarding causation patterns identified from the
data are necessary to identify the causes and agents cases and descriptions of the accidents [12]. Thus,
of accidents in the Malaysian construction indus- for the second objective, a different research
try. The results would be more reliable than the approach is adopted to identify the legal patterns of

Correspondence should be sent to Heap Yih Chong, Department of Construction Management, School of Built Environment, Curtin
University, Australia. E-mail: heapyih.chong@curtin.edu.au.

503
504 H.Y. CHONG & T.S. LOW

construction safety and health through investiga- within the site, the greater the possibility that
tion of court cases. The results arising from the accidents will arise [4]. The situation becomes
law are of utmost importance to all parties worse for a more complex design of a building
involved in construction projects. [22]. More complexity in a design tends to
Effective safety approaches and remedial involve a greater likelihood of accidents in a
actions may be taken to prevent and minimize workplace, such as falls [23]. Besides, a construc-
reoccurrences in the future with help of factual tion project involves structural, architectural,
statistical data. Moreover, participants in the con- bricklaying and plumbing work, and monitoring
struction industry have to learn and understand and evaluation. Each kind of work is performed
applicable legal rules. This research can provide by a specialized group of workers. Workers are
sources for them to explore and understand legal trained in a specialized construction; other types
issues regarding safety and health, and their legal of equipment that are available might not be
liabilities and obligations. The combined results familiar to them. Moreover, workers tend to
demonstrate the behavior and patterns of safety apply the same knowledge and techniques even
and health issues in construction sites. Ultimately, when the nature of the project is different [24].
this may strengthen awareness and moral obliga- Hence, there are many potential causes of injury
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tions on safety and health issues in the Malaysian to workers in a workplace [4]. The construction
construction industry. site consists of a lot of sophisticated tools and
equipment. Qualified personnel only can operate
this equipment. Many nonqualified operators suf-
2. Hazards fer injuries caused by improper handling of
equipment. This is because an unqualified practi-
The inherent hazards and the nature of the job
tioner is not able to analyze a situation and
performed by workers contribute to occupational
respond accordingly [21].
injuries [13]. There are three types of hazard
which need to be recognized and controlled in all
industries, especially the construction industry: 3. Legal liabilities
chemical, physical and biological [14]. Physical
hazards can cause direct injury or internal bleed- Every worker involved in a construction process
ing to a worker on a site [15]. Negative attitudes must understand their rights and liabilities. The
and behavior discourage many workers from put- law facilitates the management of safety and
ting on their personal protective equipment while health in a workplace [5]. If an individual breaks
working on site [16]. Inconvenience is another the law, they will be the one personally liable for
reason for not putting on protective equipment. the consequences of their actions. The main
Nowadays, contractors, who rely on insurance, distinction in terms of liability here is between
tend to pass on most of the responsibility for civil and criminal liability. Civil liability gives a
damages and liability to an insurance company person rights to obtain redress from another
[17]. Secondly, poor communication and co- person, e.g., the ability to sue for damages for
ordination between management and employees personal injury [25]. For there to be an award of
are causes of accidents [18, 19, 20]. Workers damages, the injured party has to suffer an actual
often come from various countries. Some do not loss, be it personal injury, property damage or
speak or understand the local language. As a financial loss arising from tort or contract law.
result, safety committees face difficulties in com- Criminal liability is a more serious offence that
municating hazard areas and potential accidents involves imprisonment and more serious
that may occur at the site [21]. punishment. With construction-related safety and
Moreover, workers tasks are repetitive in the health issues, criminal liability mainly falls into
construction industry. The construction industry areas of gross negligence and recklessness such
also involves extensive movement of site workers as harm to an individual or society [26]. This area
within a workplace. The more movement there is of criminal liability is not a major concern of this

JOSE 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3


Construction Industry Accidents 505

research, the scope of which concentrates on civil 5. Statistical Data


liability as the normal scenario in Malaysia.
Moreover, civil courts are better at appraising In 20002009, SOCSO reported 656555 acci-
appropriate financial sanctions compared to dents in all industries (6.5% of all accidents in
criminal systems [27]. industries) and 42775 accidents in the Malaysian
construction industry. The data were retrieved
from the hardcopy of annual reports for the years
4. Research ApproachES 20002009 in SOSCOs head office. Yet, the
online version was available and uploaded in the
This research adopted two research approaches
website from 2009 onwards [28]. Figure 1 shows
from quantitative and qualitative analysis. Factual
the total number of accidents by gender. The
statistical data and court cases were separated
mean number of accidents for male was 3894 and
into groups for analysis. Qualitative data of court
for female was 384. Out of the total number of
cases were converted into quantitative data to
accidents, 890 were fatalities cases and 5985
make the analysis easier and more comprehensi-
were permanent disablement. Figures 23 show
ble in the form of bar charts, rather than in a
the number of death and permanent disablement
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descriptive form.
cases by gender. The number of accidents and the

5000
4456 4588
4500 4263
4189 4048
4000
3624 3643
3500 3390 3360 3374
Accidents

3000
male
2500 workers
2000
female
1500 workers
1000
417 404 427 391 397 336 296 343 364 465
500
0
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Year
Figure 1. Accidents by gender (20002009).

200
157
150
121 male
Fatalities

workers
100 92
84 84 77 female
73
61 62 workers
46
50

2 5 4 3 4 6 3 3 2 1
0
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Year
Figure 2. Death cases by gender (20002009).

JOSE 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3


506 H.Y. CHONG & T.S. LOW

Permanent Disablement Cases 700


572 594 607
600 580
519 523 523 532
500 498
500

400 male
workers
300 female
200 workers

100 84
62 46 58 47 43 43 43 57 54
0
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Year
Figure 3. Permanent disablement cases by gender (20002009).

permanent disablement cases have a similar ratio accidents (17106). U.S. Washington States
by gender, where there were less cases for female Department of Labor and Industries defines a
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workers than for male workers. The number of floor opening as a ~31 cm or more opening in a
death cases decreased overall and involved fewer floor, roof or platform, while a wall opening is a
female workers only compared to male workers. ~76-cm-high and ~46-cm-wide opening in a wall
Most reported cases involved male workers or partition through which persons may fall, e.g.,
because of the relatively low number of female a window [29].
workers on construction sites. Table 1 shows the Accidents with trucks are extremely critical
number of construction workers in 20002009. (11622 reported cases). Trucks are commonly
Only 9% of the total number of construction work- used for transporting loose material such as sand,
ers were female workers; according to the classifi- dirt or gravel for the construction industry [30].
cation of the Department of Statistics Malaysia of They also deliver materials from suppliers to job
female (95000 in 2010 and 103300 in 2011) and sites, including reinforcement bars, bricks, tiles,
male workers (987700 in 2010 and 1030300 in timber and others. A recent study found that the
2011) in the construction industry [28]. number of fatal accidents of heavy vehicle drivers
aged 2124 was higher than that of drivers aged
TABLE 1. Construction Workers (20002009) 60 and over [31]. The older the driver is, the
Year No. of workers
2000 759.900
TABLE 2. Agents of Accidents (20002009)
2001 829.800
2002 905.100 Agent Reported Cases
2003 942.500 Working environment 17106
2004 890.800 floor and wall opening 6774
2005 904.400 stairs 6036
2006 908.900 confined space 4296
2007 922.500 Transport and lifting equipment 12570
2008 998.000 truck 11622
2009 1015.900 tower crane 653
lift 295
5.1. Agents of Accidents Other equipment 4205
ladder and mobile ramp 3386
Table 2 shows agents of accidents in the Malay- scaffolding 819
sian construction industry. Agents such as floor Machines 682
and wall openings, stairs and confined spaces in earth moving machines, excavating 682
the working environment category caused most and scraping machines

JOSE 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3


Construction Industry Accidents 507

lower the fatality rate. Driver fatigue is also a The most common type of accident is stepping
leading contributor to roadway crashes. In gen- on, striking against or being struck by objects,
eral, fatigue affects driving performance and which happens when moving construction equip-
attention, and the driver may fall asleep while ment strikes or runs over workers. In 20052009,
driving. Drivers may have an inadequate amount there were 8997 accidents. Figure 4 shows a con-
of sleep because of prolonged working hours, tinuous increase in the number of accidents.
which cause fatigue [32]. Most cases of struck-by According to the results, trucks are a top agent in
accidents happened when a truck or dump truck the Malaysian construction industry.
was reversing [33]. Most fatalities were caused Falls are a critical cause of accidents with an
by vehicles without a reversing alarm. annual average of 1042 cases in Malaysia. Previ-
ous studies also pointed out that falls were the
5.2. Causes of Accidents most common type of accident in the construc-
tion industry [34]. According to the Occupational
Factual statistical data on causes of accidents Injury and Illness Classification Manual, falls can
were investigated after examining the back- be grouped into 11 categories [35]:
grounds and agents of accidents. Table 3 shows
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causes of accidents for 20052009 according to falls from stairs or steps;


SOSCO data. Figure 4 summarizes data on acci- falls through existing floor openings;
dents caused by various causes. The data pro- falls from ladders;
vided certain references and knowledge on the falls through roof surfaces;
causes of accidents as data for the past 5 years falls from roof edges;
could not be compared to the 10 years data on falls from scaffolding or staging;
the agents of accidents. falls from building girders or other structural
steel;
TABLE 3. Causes of Accidents (20052009) falls while jumping to a lower level;
Causes Reported Cases falls through existing openings;
Stepping on, striking against or 8997 falls from floors, docks or ground level;
struck by object other nonclassified falls to lower levels.
Falls 5209
Other types of accidents 2450 The third highest group of accidents is the
Caught in between objects 1855 group including other nonclassified types of acci-
Overexertion or strenuous 684 dents such as structure collapse, electrocution,
movements fire, drowning, explosion and toxification. This

2000
1963
1959
1800
1701 1826
1600
1548 stepping on, striking or
1400 being struck by objects
Accidents

1200 1157 falls


1085 1063
1000 other types of accident
984 920
800 caught in between objects
592 565 533
600 over-exertion or strenuous
420 485
400 295 movements
310 393
437
200
90 51 186 197 160
0
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Years
Figure 4. Causes of accidents (20002009).

JOSE 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3


508 H.Y. CHONG & T.S. LOW

group has an average of 490 reported cases per or appealed against the employee. There was one
year. case from other allegations between the parties
Accidents involving being in between objects such as the subcontractor and contractor, licensee
were reported 371 times per year (1855 in total and occupier, occupier and employee, etc. These
for 20052009). These accidents were usually cases could be categorized into four levels of
caused by being buried inside a hole or trench. In injuries, i.e., minor injury, major injury, disable-
most situations, the soil collapsed and trapped ment and death. The cases with different levels of
workers. This kind of accident attracts attention injuries are broadly similar. There were seven
of the public. cases of minor injury, seven cases of disablement,
Overexertion or strenuous movements are seven cases of death and nine cases of major
another type of accidents in industry. A com- injury. Within 30 cases, the proportions of both
pressed work program and delays in a project plaintiffs and defendants winning their cases
schedule are the reasons of accidents. Figure 4 were almost even with 12 and 11 cases, respec-
shows that the number of accidents caused by tively. Seven cases were upheld by the courts as
overexertion or strenuous movements increases contributory negligence. Contributory negligence
(137 cased on average each year). is a partial defence to a claim brought against a
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construction professional. The professional may


have been in breach of duty but may also be able
6. Court Cases to argue that the claimant was partially the author
of misfortune by failing to take reasonable care to
Data on 30 court cases were retrieved from the
protect themself [36]. Therefore, both a plaintiff
Malayan Law Journal and related reports in
and a defendant have to bear the responsibility of
Lexis-Nexis. Selected court cases were related to
the consequences but with a different proportion
Malaysian construction safety and health issues
of responsibilities, depending on the circum-
in 19612011. Most court cases were civil suits
stances and evidence.
(12 cases). Cases which were brought to the
Court of Appeal and Supreme Court were the
least numerous (two cases in each court). Cases 6.1 Causes of Accidents
brought to the Federal Court and the High Court Figure 5 shows causes of accidents at the con-
of Malaysia were nine and five, respectively. struction site. Nine causes were categorized and
There were 14 claims involving an employee analyzed. Accidents caused by incorrect use or
(plaintiff) and an employer (defendant). There poor maintenance of material and equipment
were seven cases in which the employer claimed were the most common (14 cases), followed by

fall 13
machinery & equipment error 14
being struck 10
Cause of Accidents

vehicle error 3
fire 3
loading & unloading error 3
collapse 3
flood 2
explosion 1
gaseous fumes and vapor 1
improper storage of material 1
nervous shock 1
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14
Number of Accidents
Figure 5. Causes of accidents in Malaysia.

JOSE 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3


Construction Industry Accidents 509

falls (13 cases), being struck (10 cases) and acci- 7. Discussion
dents caused by collapse of building structures (3
cases). The results are similar to the statistical The factual statistical data retrieved from the
data obtained from SOSCO, which confirmed Department of Occupational Safety and Health
and strengthened the analysis of causes of acci- (DOSH) cannot indicate the actual and absolute
dents in the Malaysian construction industry [28]. construction safety and health scenario in Malay-
sia. The number of reported accidents needs to be
6.2. Penalties and Compensation compared with the total number of construction
projects in an individual year. This could demon-
Figure 6 illustrates the range of penalties and strate trends and an accurate ratio of accidents in
compensation which was calculated and deter- the Malaysian construction industry. The data-
mined in the various judgements by courts of base on construction projects was retrieved from
Malaysia. The party that was held liable would the Construction Industry Development Board
have to pay the amount to the other party. The (CIDB), which registers all construction projects
penalties tend to be monetary compensation. The in Malaysia. The construction projects are catego-
most common amount of compensation ranged rized as residential projects, nonresidential
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from 3101 to 15500 USD and was charged in 11 projects, mixed developments, social amenities,
out of 30 cases. In two case only compensation infrastructure and others. Figure 7 shows the ratio
ranged from 622001 to 933000 USD. Penalties of the total number of accidents recorded by
were not specified in three cases. DOSH compared to the total number of projects
registered in Malaysia by CIDB in 20002009.

12 11
10
Accidents

8
6
6
4 4 4
2 3
2
0
100 500 100 000 000 ified
03 115 0131 1622 1933 spec
310 15 5 31 10 2 00 not
62
Penalty/Compensation (USD)
Figure 6. Penalties and compensation charged in Malaysian cases.

1.2

1.0

0.8
Accidents

0.6
ratio
0.4

0.2

0
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Year
Figure 7. Accidents compared to total number of projects.

JOSE 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3


510 H.Y. CHONG & T.S. LOW

The number of accidents increased within 10 work, provide adequate equipment, and recruit
years and amounted to 0.82 accident per project. competent and safety-conscious staff. If an
The highest accident rate in construction projects employer fails to take reasonable care in any of
was in 2000 with 1.10 cases per project. Then, the these areas, an employee has certain legal claims
accident rate began to decrease until the lowest and may be able to resign and claim constructive
point in 2007 with 0.5 accident per project; the unfair dismissal and personal injury. Meanwhile,
possibility of an accident was 50%. The accident an employer, as the occupier of the premises, has
incident rate (total number of accidents 200000/h both physical possession and control over the
worked by all employees) decreased from 0.64 to area where workers are working at the time of the
0.40 in 20002009. Meanwhile, fatal accident accident and if it is proved that an employer had
rate (number of fatalities 108/total h worked by breached statutory duty, his employer may be lia-
all employees) also significantly decreased from ble for contributory negligence.
10.5 to 2.31 over 10 years of 20002009. The The approaches of this research influence the
number of permanent disablement cases remained behavior and trends of construction safety and
high (642 cases in 2000, 691 cases in 2009) and health issues in Malaysia. Most causes of acci-
was further investigated. This was the limitation
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dents belong to two categories: striking against or


of this research. The trend in construction safety being struck by objects. These two categories
and health is improving and heading in a positive require further discussion and examination.
direction according to the overall analysis of A cross-examination with other countries was
20002009. There is an improvement in safety also carried to have a clear reference point or to
effectiveness in the Malaysian construction see a trend for Malaysian construction safety and
industry, which is the result of the growth and health. The comparison was based on the cases
establishment of enacted laws and regulations, reported in DOSH against the results from the
professional practises, safety policies, and defined existing literature. Table 4 shows a comparison of
management plans and strategies. the total number of cases of striking against or
The second approach of this research was based being struck by objects, and falls. The number of
on analysis of court cases under the statute law reported accidents was high in various countries
and included common law jurisprudence. All in categories striking against or being struck by
employers are obliged to protect their employees objects, and falls. The findings show that striking
under common law. This extends into all employ- against or being struck by objects ranked higher
ment contracts and employers responsibility to than falls in Taiwan, Spain, New York and
take care of their employees safety and health. Malaysia, but not in Korea and China. Neverthe-
Employers will be liable for their negligence, less, these two causes are the most dangerous
vicarious liability and contributory negligence. hazards in construction accidents in all countries.
An employer is obliged to provide a safe place of This shows that over 50% of all accidents in
work, to provide and maintain a safe system of industry were related to these two categories,

TABLE 4. Comparison of Accident Categories: Striking Against or Struck by Objects and Falls
Striking Against or Total Accidents or
Study Country Year Struck by Objects (%) Falls (%) Cases Investigated
Tam, Zeng & Deng [37] China 1999 24.2 48.4 2319
1
Mohan & Zech [38] USA 19902001 43.3 18.7 2161
Lopez, Fontanada & Spain 19902000 40.4 20.9 630452
Alcantara [39]
Im, Kwon, Kim, et al. [40] Korea 19972004 16.8 54.1 4333
Cheng, Lin & Leu [3] Taiwan 20002007 73.0* 59.0* 1347
No study Malaysia 20052009 46.9 27.1 19195
Notes. *overlapping areas; 1 = data for New York, NY.

JOSE 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3


Construction Industry Accidents 511

even though the statistical results varied in terms 2. Ling FYY, Liu M, Woo YC. Construction
of data collection and years. The results confirm fatalities in Singapore. International Journal of
that the causes of accidents in the Malaysian con- Project Management. 2009;27(7):71726.
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2010;48(4):43644.
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4. Pinto A, Nunes IL, Ribeir RA. Occupational
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risk assessment in construction industry
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5. Badri A, Gbodossou A, Nadeau S.
The analysis of statistical data and court cases Occupational health and safety risks:
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of construction accidents are mainly striking success factors influencing safety program
performance in Thai construction projects.
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Saf Sci. 2008;46(4):70927.
the judgments of court cases are even for plain-
7. Bansal VK. Application of geographical
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