India: Unions seek safe rescue of tunnel workers, call for increased workplace health and safety

(Photo: Reuters)

In Uttarakhand, India, forty one (41) construction workers were trapped on 12 November when the Silkyara Bend-Barkot tunnel collapsed during construction by the Navayuga Engineering Construction Limited (NECL). Despite ten days passing since the incident, ongoing rescue operations face challenges like falling debris and machine breakdowns. While drilling through the tunnel debris was halted on 17 November due to cracking sounds, alternative methods, such as vertical drilling for a new escape route, are now in progress.

Former MP, Dr. Rama Chandra Khuntia, who is also INTUC Vice President and BWI World Board Member, expressed hope for the safe rescue of the workers and anticipated that an investigation will lead to corrective actions. He said that he has been in contact with the families of the trapped workers. He emphasised that occupational health and safety (OHS) is a persistent concern, urging the government to review existing frameworks and standard operating procedures for construction work in challenging terrains. Noting previous accidents and trade unions' warnings, Khuntia also highlighted the need for comprehensive measures to prevent future accidents. 

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson added a global perspective, stating, "This incident is a stark reminder of the dangers faced by workers in infrastructure projects worldwide. It underscores the critical importance of prioritising workplace health and safety to prevent such tragedies on a global scale. BWI calls on governments, employers, and international bodies to come together in fostering a global culture that prioritises and safeguards the lives of workers who labour to build various infrastructure projects."