The investigation into the death of 32-year-old Athikan Khamdaeng is focusing on whether the crane operator or the hoist system itself was at fault. Thousands of Thai workers die on the job every year despite a push since 2009 which has seen the formation of an oversight agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Bureau as well as a landmark 2011 law governing health and safety provisions in organisations employing over 100 people.
A shocking and horrific accident on Wednesday saw a Thai lorry driver die instantly when a 32-ton container being loaded onto his lorry, fell from its hoist and crashed into the cab of his vehicle as he sat in it, waiting for the operation to be completed. A full investigation is underway. The incident highlights the ongoing quest to ensure workplace safety standards in Thailand’s developing economy where only 25% of workers are presently covered under a 1994 workplace fund provision.
A truck driver lost his life on Wednesday evening in a horrific accident while a ship was being offloaded in Sri Racha port in Chonburi.
The 32-year-old man was named as Athikan Khamdaeng. He had driven his Hino truck into Zone D1 of the Kerry Siam Seaport Co., Ltd and was waiting in it at around 6.26 pm when disaster struck.
Disaster struck when the crane was offloading a 32 ton container from the ship to the truck
The crane was offloading the container from the moored international cargo ship destined for the truck trailer, containing eucalyptus wood, when it fell onto his vehicle in a central position coming down also on the cab area.
The driver, contrary to best practice, was seated in his cab while the offloading operation from the ship by crane was underway.
The container, weighing 32 tons, completely crushed the cab area of the truck with Mr Athikan inside.
Crane had to be used to remove the container after it devastated the truck and its cab on impact
Officers at the port had to then use another crane to remove the container and the body of the driver who had suffered a broken neck and needed to be cut out of the wreckage.
An investigation is underway into the cause of the accident to establish whether the crane operator was at fault or whether some part of the crane and sling being used to offload the container from the ship was substandard.
Latest figure from 2014 showed 2,463 workplace-related deaths in the kingdom despite regulations
Figures publicly available for work-related accidents and deaths in Thailand are sketchy with a dearth of up to date data.
For 2014, the rate reported was 6.84 per 100,000 workers. The Thai workforce including those working in agriculture, is estimated to be approximately 36 million people so this equates to 2,463 deaths per year.
Developing countries like Thailand are reported to have between two and five times the number of work-related injuries and deaths than developed countries such as the United States which every year loses hundreds of billions of dollars through injuries and deaths.
Groundbreaking work safety law in 2011
In 2011, Thailand introduced the 2011 Occupational Health and Safety Act which imposed a radical new agenda on firms in the kingdom that employ more than 100 people.
Part of the bill, Section 13(4), specified that each firm had to appoint a fully trained health and safety officer not only to write and perfect a health and safety plan for the company but also to confirm, in writing, every 3 months by a report, that health and safety standards were being observed by the business in question.
New agency established in 2009, the Occupational Safety and Health Bureau with 12 regional offices
Prior to the 2011 Act, workplace safety had been regulated by the ministries of Labour, Industry and Public Health.
Prior to the Act coming into force, the government established, in 2009, the Occupational Safety and Health Bureau in Bangkok with 12 regional offices to ensure ‘decent safety and health for employees’.
In 2009, the Ministry of Labour introduced specific safety regulations by ministerial order relating to the use of forklifts and cranes in the workplace which will be central to any inquiry into the death of Mr Athikan on Wednesday.
1996 survey showed 56% of all work places ignored work safety laws before the new era kicked in
The scale of the problem that existed before this can be seen from a 1996 survey by the Ministry of Labour which surveyed over 12,700 business concerns and found 57% were not complying with even then weak work safety provisions.
Following the introduction of the groundbreaking 2011 law, up to thirty-five universities in Thailand and third-level institutions provided specific degrees on workplace safety including three postgraduate degrees.
Relaxation of the law in 2018 to make it easier for employers to find workplace safety officers
However in 2018, in response to the business and industry sector which complained to the government that it was experiencing genuine difficulty in employing work safety staff as prescribed by the law, the government eased the requirement under Section 13(4) to allow any member of staff with a bachelor degree to be appointed work safety officer provided they attended a 222-hour course on the subject.
The move was opposed at the time by academics including the Dean of Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Professor Sarawut Suthammasa.
One trained safety officer with a 4-year degree and eight years of work experience warned the proposed change may have serious implications.
‘This imminent change in the ministry’s regulations will lead to compromised standards of work safety,’ she said.
Worker’s Compensation fund for deaths and injuries
At present, in Thailand, approximately 25% of workers in the economy are covered under the Thai Workmen Compensation Fund, which is a 1994 provision that takes on the full liability of employers for injuries or death for all legally registered workers in the Thai economy.
Employers of all sizes pay a levy into the fund every year which provides them, in return, with full coverage and is used to pay awards to those injured or at a loss as well as families of those deceased.