Accidents expose lax safety hitting Indonesia’s infrastructure projects

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Five workers were injured in January when a box girder fell on a section of the light rail transit track in East Jakarta. Image: Galih Pradipta/Jakarta Globe/Antara

By Sarah Yuniarni in Jakarta

A recent string of accidents in major construction projects in Indonesia has raised concerns of lax safety standards as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo pushes on with his ambitious infrastructure drive.

Last week, a retaining wall at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport near Jakarta collapsed and crushed a passing car, killing one man and injured another.

The wall was part of an airport train project completed only a few months ago by state-owned construction company Waskita Karya.

Prior to that, a total of 11 accidents were recorded at construction projects around the country managed by Waskita, Hutama Karya and Adhi Karya since August 2017, killing eight and injuring dozens of others.

Davy Sukamta, a structural engineering consultant, said managing too many projects could have strained the companies’ capabilities and exposed questionable work practices.

“Personally, I think [the accidents may have been caused by] bad work habits that have been going on [for years]. This makes it difficult for these companies to handle so many infrastructure projects,” Sukamta said.

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Davy stopped short of saying contractors cut corners on construction materials, but did point out that many of them — especially smaller operators — lack skilled engineers and workers.

‘Lowest bids’
“The way the government conducts tenders for their projects [is also worrying]. They almost always pick a contractor that makes the lowest bid,” Sukamta said.

According to him, the Indonesian government should put contractors through a strict pre-qualification or pre-screening test. This will allow them to weed out low-skilled contractors from major construction projects.

The government should also conduct a thorough performance evaluation after each project is finished, which should allow them to earmark or ban underperforming contractors from future projects.

The incident at Soekarno-Hatta Airport forced the government to launch an investigation and raise safety standards in all its other infrastructure projects.

Transportation Ministry Secretary-General Sugihardjo said on February 4 that Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi had made an agreement with the Public Works and Housing Ministry to investigate the accident.

As part of the agreement, the airport train project will now be supervised by the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT).

Safety standards
The contractor for the project has already been told to replace facilities at the construction site that do not meet safety standards.

KNKT will also send a team to perform quality control at the site.

Waskita Karya’s corporate secretary Shastia Hadiarti said last Friday the accident at Soekarno-Hatta Airport has not significantly impacted the company’s business since Waskita still has numerous other projects going on.

Shastia said investigation into the tragedy is continuing and the result will be announced in March or April.

Reconstruction of the collapsed wall is expected to be completed in the next few days.

Waskita is waiting for a team of investigators to decide if the area is safe for cars or pedestrians to cross.

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