When I was in primary school, there was a large construction project happening on the road in front of our house. I remember it was loud, dusty and the subject of constant complaints from our neighbors. However, my most vivid memory is of all the shiny, majestic machinery being delivered by the workers in their bright orange uniforms.
There was an immediate fascination among the children with these powerful and temptingly dangerous machines. Of course our parents all drilled us with the same message – “Do not go near, do not touch, do not interfere with the nice men repairing the roads,” and so we abided, but the curiosity and thrill of potentially touching these metal monsters never entirely subsided. Luckily, working in the transport sector now I get to be around construction equipment all the time!
At the Bank we try to minimize the negative impact of our projects on local communities. But how often do we fully consider the safety of children around construction sites? We often overlook the fascination that children experience when they see unfamiliar, shiny machinery. This is particularly the case in island states where none of this equipment is locally available and where limited space can put school facilities in close proximity to construction sites.
The urge to want to go near, touch and play with new life-sized toys is very understandable. Unfortunately, many children in these countries are unaware of the potential dangers these machines pose. Coupled with limited health services available locally, this can result in serious consequences.
Although best efforts are made to store equipment safely and out of reach of children, the risk for accidents cannot always be fully mitigated. However, a new Children Awareness Program initiated by the Project Support Team of the Tuvalu Aviation Investment Project is providing a case study in what can be done to keep children safer around machinery.
Under the program, children from kindergarten and grades one and two from schools on the main atoll of Funafuti were brought to the work site for a tour, with staff from contractor Mc Connell Dow providing explanation of the functions of each piece of equipment used on the site including mixer trucks, diggers and compaction equipment and educating children on the dangers of each equipment. The team also requested the assistance of the local police, who added weight to the safety lessons the children learned during the tour.
After the training program, no children were seen playing near the equipment. After five years of implementation, there have been no major injuries. We strongly believe that the efforts by the project support team to ensure awareness among school children has definitely been a great contributing factor to that.
The Greek philosopher Plato once said “A good start is half the battle.” With simple activities such as these at the start of our construction projects, we can help ensure that children are aware of the dangers of construction and will not let their curiosity get the better of them.