Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Cedric Stephens | Managing risks associated with NWA, CHEC roadworks

Published:Sunday | January 13, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Work under way on a section of Mandela Highway which straddles a section of St Catherine and St. Andrew. The project, which is expected to be completed this year, is being done under the Major Infrastructure Development Programme and executed by China Harbour Engineering Company.

Are the contractors who are undertaking roadworks in connection with the Major Infrastructure Development Programme (MIDP) paying enough attention to managing the risks associated with the works? Are their efforts to prevent injuries or deaths to road users and damage to their property effective? MIDP, according to the National Works Agency's (NWA) website, "is a US$352.9 million programme". It is financed by the China Ex-Im Bank and the Government of Jamaica (GOJ). China Ex-Im Bank has provided 85 per cent financing. GOJ provides the balance. MIDP is being implemented under a contract that was signed six years ago.

NWA is named as MIDP's supervisory engineer. This means that the agency is the government body that supervises the development and execution of the programme. Attempts to get answers to the questions from the NWA under the Access to Information Act, which began on October 10, 2018, have, to date, not borne fruit. Officials have been consistently responsive, but the information remains elusive.


Battle lost


NWA, it seems, has lost the public relations battle for hearts and minds. A few examples: An unidentified motorist was killed on November 25, 2018. The accident, according to this newspaper, occurred along Constant Spring Road. The deceased's pickup truck crashed into a ditch "where major redevelopment works are under way". Employees working on Mandela Highway improvements told the Sunday Gleaner one month earlier that they see an average of three motor vehicle accidents each day. One worker is reportedly "on edge" due to concerns about his personal safety. A 34-year old woman was killed in one incident along that roadway.

A civil engineer interviewed for the article noted faults in the safety measures. "There is not enough illumination on the barriers (contractors) are using ... they don't glow in the dark." Attempts to control traffic are ineffective. The absence of proper and adequate signage - from my observations - is a big problem. Improvements to Barbican Road between Garth Road and Russell Heights are plagued by similar problems. While travelling northeasterly along Barbican Road at around 8.10 p.m. last Monday, I became very scared by the prospect of a head-on collision in the absence of any signage.

A.R. Brown, in a letter dated January 8, 2019 to the editor, describes Constant Spring Road between Dunrobin Avenue and Shortwood Road as a "construction mess". NWA, China Harbour and GOJ, he says, "... are operating with little or no regard for the general populace".Are his comments accurate, fair and reasonable given the growth in vehicle ownership of nearly six per cent between 2004 and 2006 and the absence of major improvements to the urban road infrastructure in decades?

NWA's December 17, 2015 64-page MIDP technical specifications provide an indirect answer to the question. It details the standards that "excavations, gabion (retaining) walls, rubble, sidewalks, curb and gutter and concrete, stormwater drainage and steelwork", for example, must meet. Those standards are mainly British or American. There is nothing that speaks specifically to how the many risks that road construction projects pose to members of the public were to be managed, despite NWA's assurance to the contrary. In 'insurance protection against roadwork mishaps' (September 30, 2018), I cited information from the US Federal Highway Administration that one driver or construction worker is killed in work construction zones every 14 minutes.


History of FIDIC


FIDIC is the French acronym for Federation Internationale Des Ingenieurs-Conseils. In English, this means the International Federation of Consulting Engineers. It was formed in 1913 by France, Belgium and Switzerland. The United Kingdom joined FIDIC in 1949. The group is headquartered in Switzerland and now has members from over 60 countries. Over the years, FIDIC has become famous for producing standard form contracts for the construction and engineering industry. Some civil engineering works in Jamaica use FIDIC contract forms.

What does the standard FIDIC contract form say about safety? The contractor, under Section 4, General Obligations, "shall be responsible for the adequacy, stability and safety of all site operations and of all methods of construction". Sub-section 4 makes it very clear that this duty is not transferable. It reads: "The contractor shall be responsible for the acts or defaults of any subcontractor, his agents or employees as if they were the acts or defaults of the contractor."

Sub-section 4.8 deals specifically with 'Safety Procedures.' It says: "The contractor shall (a) comply with all applicable safety regulations; (b) take care for the safety of all persons entitled to be on the site; (c) use reasonable efforts to keep the site and works clear of unnecessary obstruction so as to avoid danger to these persons; (d) provide fencing, lighting, guarding and watching of the works until completion and taking over under Clause 10 [Employer's Taking Over]; and (e) provide any temporary works (including roadways, footways, guards and fences) which may be necessary, because of the execution of the works, for the use and protection of the public and of owners and occupiers of adjacent land."

FIDIC's contract form also imposes an obligation on the contractor to prove the efficacy of the safety protocols. Subsection 4.9, quality assurance, states that "the contractor shall institute ... a system to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the contract. The system shall be in accordance with the details stated in the contract. The engineer shall be entitled to audit any aspect of the system".

It remains unclear how risks to members of the public arising from the execution of MIDP are being managed and supervised by the contractors and NWA, respectively. Is this right strategy? Wouldn't buy-in to the temporary inconvenience and disruption caused by these works be more likely if, for example, members of the public were to be encouraged to act as additional eyes and ears of NWA in ensuring compliance with safety standards instead of being passive bystanders and leave these matters exclusively in the hands of the engineers? Couldn't it be part of a broader strategy to encourage road users to behave more responsibly? Is there a role for the National Road Safety Council?

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. If you need free information or counsel email