Black’s Law Dictionary defines the term “accident” as “an unintended and unforeseen injurious occurrence not attributable to mistake, neglect or misconduct.”
On Saturday morning, one such occurrence headlined by news organizations as an “accident” killed one motorcycle rider and injured at least six others when a steel girder of the P10-billion Skyway Stage 3 extension project crashed on them.
EEI Corp., the construction company in charge, said a crane being positioned along East Service Road in Barangay Cupang, Muntinlupa “tilted and fell” on the steel girder that then crushed or damaged seven vehicles below it.
Passing commuters and motorists must have considered themselves lucky to escape sure death — not being in the wrong place at the wrong time — when tons and tons of metal came clanging down into the busy street.
The sheer tonnage of the girder would have flattened any and all vehicles into tin cans and reduced people into mincemeat had they been directly underneath it.
Solely on the assumption that nobody wanted the crane to tilt and cause the collapse of the steel bar, the incident may be considered an “accident,” but only after an investigation shows it’s not attributable to mistake, neglect or misconduct.
Project proponent San Miguel Corp. assured the public that contractor EEI “will attend to, and take care of all the needs of those who were affected.” For its part, SMC said it will conduct a “full and thorough investigation.”
Here it should be stressed that while it’s within the right of SMC to look into the incident to stop something like it from happening, it is government and its various instrumentalities that will be doing the investigation to, among other objectives, determine culpability, if any.
Right off the bat, the Departments of Public Works and Highways, Transportation, and Labor and Employment can be assumed to be already conducting preliminary probes on this public infrastructure project.
A negative effect of the unfortunate incident, according to SMC, is that the target completion had been pushed back from the end of this year to February 2021 — a small matter if safety will henceforth be prioritized by the proponents.
When finished, the project will extend the elevated expressway from Susana Heights on the South Luzon Expressway to Sucat and back.
It will connect the South Luzon Expressway and the Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway to the Skyway at Susana Heights, making travel faster from south to north by bypassing Alabang, Muntinlupa.
Determining whether or not the collapse of the girder was due to negligence is a must because if it’s in the affirmative, then it would have been a preventable incident that should not have resulted in death and injuries and destruction of public property.
Therefore, a full-blown investigation by government is something that media and the public will be keeping a tab on, especially with the unsettling regularity of construction-related mishaps in the country.
A simple Google search would show that a number of occupational accidents resulting in deaths had happened in the country in the last two years, including a crane snapping, a platform with two workers collapsing, and a cement bucket falling on laborers below, all in Manila alone.
Public and not just worker endangerment attends occupational and construction incidents when projects involve public infrastructures, such as Skyway 3, and when construction cranes atop buildings being erected (like those along Diosdado Macapagal Avenue) extend and pass over busy streets as they haul building materials.
Not limited to construction incidents, the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2019 reported over a million work-related deaths annually and nearly uncountable injuries from hundreds of millions of workplace accidents and occupational exposure to hazardous substances worldwide.
Addressing last year’s 15th World Congress on Occupational Safety and Health, the chief of the ILO’s Health and Safety program, Dr. Jukka Takala, told delegates assembled in São Paulo, Brazil “that the workplace hecatomb of 1.1 million deaths exceeds the average annual deaths from road accidents (999,000), war (502,000), violence (563,000) and HIV/AIDS (312,000).”
While approximately one-quarter of those deaths resulted from exposure to hazardous substances, leading to cancer and cardiovascular illnesses, Takala said workers suffer approximately 250 million occupational accidents (including construction-related) each year.
According to ILO, some 600,000 of those deaths would be preventable each year if only available safety practices and appropriate information were used. It warned that construction sites in developing countries like the Philippines are 10 times more dangerous than in industrialized countries.
Whether by Black’s or by ILO regulations, deaths and injuries arising from preventable incidents are no “accidents” because they, in most likelihood, were attended by negligence at the very least.
That’s why the government must leave no stone unturned in investigating deadly or injurious work-related events like the Skyway 3 girder collapse.