A falling bridge beam that hit three vehicles and caused two deaths on Sunday night attests to the sad fact of poor public-safety standards in this country.
The incident occurred at a U-turn near the 34-kilometre marker on the Thon Buri-Pak Tho Road, also known as Rama II Road, in front of Vibharam Samutsakhon Hospital.
The bridge has been under construction since late June as part of work commissioned by the Highways Department. From the structure extended a 15-metre-long concrete beam with a rail guard weighing a total of 25 tonnes. The beam fell onto traffic passing underneath, killing one passenger. A construction worker on the site also fell to his death.
A panel has been set up to determine what caused the collapse and whether it was due to carelessness on the part of the construction firm. The panel is expected to submit its findings in two weeks. There have been reports that the flyover was severely damaged in a fire several years ago. Lack of experience among workers on the site likewise has not been ruled out.
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob blamed human error for the tragedy, prompting the Highways Department to examine the other 200 flyover projects now in progress across the country.
Rama II Road, a major route linking Bangkok to the southern region, is infamous for construction accidents. Just last month, construction materials fell from an expressway extension project. Fortunately there were no casualties or injuries in that incident, only damage to passing vehicles.
As for Sunday's beam collapse, the Transport Ministry and Highways Department have pledged full compensation for the victims' families. They are to receive the same amounts the agencies pay out to highway officers, which is 70% of their salary for 10 years or about 1.3 million baht. The injured are to receive daily compensation.
But the agencies, particularly the Highways Department, should consider more compensation for the families of those who died in the collapse, as the victims were the breadwinners of their families.
Apart from compensation, agencies also should take tough legal action against those involved if a breach of safety measures is found. This is to send a strong message to others and make clear the importance of adhering to safety protocols in order to avoid construction site accidents.
Indeed, the July 31 tragedy is but one example of an inability or unwillingness to maintain safety measures by public agencies, departments and organisations. Coming quickly to mind is the short-circuit of a Metropolitan Electricity Authority transformer in June. The equipment failure was the result of poor maintenance and led to a fire that spread to nearby shophouses in the Sampheng area. Two people died.
Back on the roads, for motorists and daily commuters it's all too apparent that some construction sites are unsafe. Carelessness and negligence are common, for instance inadequate signage alerting drivers to construction danger. Such recklessness would be much less common if state agencies made more frequent inspections of sites. By giving contractors what amounts to a free pass, it's the pubic who pay the price.
The Rama II beam tragedy should be a flashing red. Yet, the situation will improve only when the government and parties concerned see public safety as a civic duty rather than a bothersome obligation -- that is, something that can be easily avoided if everyone simply looks the other way.