Human cost of Spain's building boom revealed

16th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

16 March 2006, MALAGA — New figures for deaths and injuries on construction sites in Spain reveal the human cost of the building boom on the Mediterranean coast, a report claims.

16 March 2006

MALAGA — New figures for deaths and injuries on construction sites in Spain reveal the human cost of the building boom on the Mediterranean coast, a report claims.

More than 300 workers a year pay with their lives to satisfy demand for homes in the sun in part of Europe whose population is growing faster than any other, according to the BBC.

John Heslop, a British health and safety consultant who works on the Costa del Sol, said before he moved here several years ago he had heard stories of more than 1,000 injuries every week on building sites.

Now he has seen the sites for himself, he knows the stories are true.

For the unions trying to make things safer, it is a daily battle.

Javier Urbina, who represents the UGT - the biggest union for workers in the industry - the main trouble is that hardly any Spanish builders are signed-up union members.

"It's difficult to wake up every morning and to switch on the radio and to hear that another worker has been killed on a construction site," he says.

"This is unbelievable. We cannot stand for it. All the players involved have part of the responsibility."

Builders may be one of the main motors of what they are calling "the Spanish miracle" - a boom that is propelling the country's economy towards the top of the European league.

But many are illegals, subcontractors of subcontractors - and they are paid per job and not per hour. So it is often about getting things finished as quickly as possible and cutting corners.

"The first level of responsibility is employers," says Urbina.

"They have to respect the law. They have to implement measures regarding safety. They have to oblige workers to use the measures they offer them."
The demand for homes in the sun is fuelling the building industry

On the sites themselves - even those where the men do wear hard hats and the occasional safety harness - the builders seem cheerfully aware of the risks they could be taking.

"I've heard of many accidents," one builder says.

"Like in San Pedro, not far from here - people falling off a roof, falling off scaffolding that wasn't properly fixed to a wall. Not here on this site - but I've heard of many deaths on many sites around this area."

Eighty per cent of workers on Spanish building sites are self-employed.

The industry is one of fast and big profits. And when every investor, including the thousands of foreigners who buy properties in this part of Europe every year, comes looking for a bargain, the welfare of builders does not tend to be the top priority.

Local newspaper stories from recent weeks on the Costa del Sol include a crane that collapsed, spilling its entire load of bricks into a school playground; and six builders killed when part of a motorway viaduct they were working on, north of Malaga, fell on top of them.

But at the moment there is so much money still to be made in development in Spain and development is going on at an incredible pace.

"The demand currently is for about 600,000 properties. So 300 deaths against that demand is a statistic that is likely to rise," says Heslop.

The estimated cost to Spain of injured workers' days off is EUR 3,200 a year.

Urbina says it is likely to be the cold economics of the situation that make the difference in safety standards.

"In the end, we are talking about reducing costs. Something has to be done," he says.

"And as a union, we are working on this. And we are trying to gather all the key players, to take responsibility to overcome this problem. We cannot continue as we are."

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Subject: Spanish news

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