In a rare criminal conviction, a Qatar court has found a local company guilty of involuntary manslaughter following the death of one of its construction workers.
In late March, both the firm and a crane operator were ordered to pay thousands of riyals in fines and compensation. Speaking to Doha News, the company said it is now appealing the verdict.
However, a spokesperson added that the firm will proceed with plans to financially assist the victim’s family.
The court verdict came after a Nepali man was killed on Jan. 5 while working on a sewer project in the Old Airport neighborhood.
Three of his coworkers testified in a criminal trial earlier this year that a crane was being used to move plastic pipes – each measuring about 12m in length and weighing some 700kg – when the incident occurred.
Each pipe was supposed to be secured with a belt to keep it from tilting or falling from the crane.
But the men testified that the crane arm moved suddenly before they could fasten the belt, causing one of the pipes to fall and strike the victim in the chest. He later died in the hospital.
The men worked for a company named Daman, a subcontractor of Action International Services.
Qatar prosecutors opted to charge Action, as well as the three individuals working for Daman, alleging they were responsible for the man’s death through their negligence, lack of caution and disregard for safety laws and regulations, court records state.
After initially telling investigators that the accident was not his fault, the crane operator confessed during the relatively brief trial that he made a mistake that led to the man’s death.
The court also heard that inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs found several violations during their visit to the site after the incident.
That included not properly informing workers about the dangers of their job, workers not wearing safety devices and proper clothing, inadequate supervision and a lack of emergency medical kits.
The court exonerated two of the individuals on trial while finding the crane operator and the company guilty. It levied fines of QR200,000 (US$54,946) on the firm and QR10,000 ($2,747) on the crane operator.
Collectively, the firm and the worker must also pay QR200,000 in blood money to the victim’s family.
In the Gulf, blood money is an Islamic provision that must be paid if a judge finds a person guilty of causing death or injury to another person, either accidentally or intentionally.
The next appeal hearing is scheduled for June 14, the Action spokesperson said.
Safety standards at the hundreds of construction sites across Qatar vary greatly, human rights advocates say.
Many of the projects led by high-profile, international firms have instituted precautions such as notices and warnings at the entrance, but some – particularly smaller work sites – have a more lax environment, said Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri.
Indeed, residents routinely report seeing construction workers on job sites wearing sandals, for example, or on scaffolding without safety harnesses.
In 2013, Qatar’s Labor Inspection Department said that nearly 30 percent of companies working in the country were violating safety standards, the Gulf Times reported. Most transgressions were minor and simple, officials said at the time.
Qadri told Doha News that he welcomed news of the trial, which he said shows that the authorities are holding some companies to account and investigating the circumstances behind tragic incidents. However, he said additional steps need to be taken, such as conducting more surprise site visits.
“This is one tragic case, but there are likely many other construction sites that the authorities need to proactively address,” he said.
Qatar’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs said last week that it currently employs 294 inspectors and plans to increase the number to 400 by year-end. That’s up from approximately 150 in late 2013.
While one local lawyer said this week that nearly 300 inspectors is “sufficient” for Qatar, Qadri said the figure is “obviously inadequate” given the amount of construction currently underway across the country.
He said the increasing the number of inspectors would have had a positive impact, adding that he’s aware of cases where inspectors have identified labor law violations and forced companies to change their practices.
However, he said this has yet to change overall attitudes towards construction site safety across the country.
“With the workers’ population (is) expected to (keep rising) in the next few years, unless steps are taken, there is a risk that these types of deaths will increase unless more steps are taken,” Qadri said.