Lessons From Accident At Bengaluru Namma Metro Construction Site: No To Scaremongering And Yes To Better Safety Standards


The risks posed by the metro construction work are amplified many times by the urban environment.

Metro lines are basically located in a complex environment, such as densely populated urban areas surrounded by high-rise buildings and intensive underground pipelines. Some areas still have existing infrastructures with huge traffic volumes. .

A woman and her two-and-half-year-old son were killed after an under-construction pier rebar of the “Namma Metro” (Bengaluru Metro) on Outer Ring Road near Hennur collapsed.

The pier rebar was fixed at the site as part of the under-construction 37 km Metro Phase 2B Outer Ring Road Blue Line project that will run between K. R Puram and Kempegowda International Airport (KIAL) in Devanahalli. Engineering firm NCC Ltd was executing the work.

Many netizens took to social media to vent their ire, with questions being raised about the quality of the work and alleged negligence by the contractors. Few even advocated the complete stoppage of metro work in the city, which is happening rapidly after years of lackadaisical progress. With over 100 km of metro network likely to be added in the current year and the next couple of years, Namma Metro is set to emerge as a critical mobility pillar for the city’s 15 million residents.

Tuesday’s incident once again highlighted one of the many challenges that will be faced by urban transport authorities given the scale of metro network construction happening in our cities.

In recent years, India has seen significant growth in urban rail, also known as Metro rail. The length of operational metro rail projects has reached 824 km, and work on another 1,039 km is underway. The frequent accidents at metro sites have created fears that safety standards are being compromised in a rush to build new lines.

In such a context, here is an attempt to flag the safety issues involved with Metro construction work and a few measures that can help strike a balance between the speedy rollout of urban transport and the safety of workers, motorists, and pedestrians as work on the metro progresses.

Major Security Hazards

The civil work on any metro project involves four processes: road diversion and barricading, followed by piling, pier construction, and girder erection.

Each stage involves the significant movement of thousands of workers and heavy machinery. As such, safety accidents often occur during metro construction, including high falling, collapse, object strike, vehicle injury, and lifting injury.

The occurrences of accidents are often related to the complex geological conditions of metro engineering, the construction environment, the suboptimal level of safety monitoring at the construction site, and other human factors.

However, two significant risks in metro-related accidents are site workers’ lack of safety awareness and site safety monitoring.

Lack of Safety Consciousness

A significant section of the onsite workforce in metro projects tends to be inter-state migrant workers. While many of them are skilled and work hard in harsh project conditions, imparting a high level of safety consciousness may be an operational challenge, given the lack of formal educational background combined with cultural attitudes towards safety standards.

The lack of safety knowledge and weak safety awareness is reflected in accident statistics, most of which are attributable to unsafe work practices by workers.

Safety Monitoring

The latest incident in Bengaluru is being attributed to alleged negligence on the part of the contractor deputed by the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL).

Safety monitoring and early warning are of great significance for metro construction projects and are one of the key tasks of the Metro Authorities.

Consider how, following a series of accidents in the early 2010s, the DMRC launched a special campaign to train workers as well as supervisors of all contractors with whom it worked.

The corporation directed all construction companies to organise a three-day crash training program, equivalent to 18 hours of training exposure, for all employees working on construction sites, including subcontractors.

According to a report in the Deccan Herald, the BMRCL “rigorously” follows the method statement, a document that details how every work should be carried out.

“Every stage of the work is checked, first by the contractor’s safety engineers and then by our engineers and an independent agency,” the source explained.

Such incidents are often followed by the usual knee-jerk reaction, in which senior officials are suspended and the contractors are either blacklisted or fined. However, the Metro authorities should see that all checklists are followed to prevent such incidents and conduct safety audits with more diligence.

Environmental Impact

The risks posed by the metro construction work are amplified many times by the urban environment.

Metro lines are located in complex environments, such as densely populated urban areas surrounded by high-rise buildings and intensive underground pipelines. Some areas still have existing infrastructures with huge traffic volumes.

In this case, metro construction is prone to significantly impact the surrounding environment, leading to hidden safety risks.

Experts say there is a need for better safety measures in metro areas as these sites are closer to traffic and houses. Contractors often cite a lack of space to manoeuvre equipment, but that’s hardly a valid excuse.

Is the situation alarming?

According to an RTI reply, 156 people died, and 103 workers were injured in the construction of the Delhi Metro between 2002 and 2018. A separate data also reveals that 198 accidents killed 118 people who were not involved in the construction of the Metro Rail in the same period.

However, the metro’s accident rate across all projects is low compared with similar construction projects worldwide.

China, the country that has built an impressive number of metro network in the last 25 years (46 operational currently), including Shanghai Metro, the world’s longest metro network at 803 kilometres, has witnessed a spate of construction-related accidents.

For instance, Beijing’s metro construction, which will be the world’s most extensive subway network, has been marked with safety concerns. As of December 31, 2021, subways have been in operation in 40 cities in mainland China, covering a total distance of 7,253.73 km (China Association of Metros, 2022). According to the statistics made available by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development of the People’s Republic of China, nearly 80 accidents occurred from 2011 to 2016 during metro construction.

The rushed pace of construction in China resulted in an alarmingly high accident rate—worse than the accidents on Indian metro sites. State-run Chinese media is also growing increasingly critical of the safety standards at construction projects.

“Overly rapid subway construction has derailed quality control,” said the Beijing Review after the infamous Hangzhou accident. “Under loose supervision, subway project contractors have put production safety in the backseat in pursuit of speed and profit, threatening workers’ lives,” the Review stated.

What Next?

The safety parameters to be practised during the construction work on metro projects are relatively better and in sync with local conditions. Achieving the highest level of safety standards tends to be a ‘work-in-progress’ – every mishap presents an opportunity to learn and reset the safety norms to prevent future reoccurrence.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), considered a benchmark for urban transit in the country, has adopted several measures for the smooth and safe construction of a 61.5-km long network under Phase IV.

These include measures like well-planned traffic diversions with marshals to guide motorists, three-layer crash barriers, a dedicated path for road users, and barricade illumination. Apart from the safety of road users, DMRC also considers the safety of its workers at the site. Large vehicles with cushioning on the traffic-facing side are placed some distance from the work area.

All vehicles used in construction work have speed governors to prevent them from breaching a predefined speed. Apart from this, the construction vehicles are also provided with ‘lateral and rear under protection devices’, which prevent any accidental entanglement with other vehicles, preventing serious injuries to the occupants of such vehicles.

Any death is unfortunate, but fatalities do occur. What is essential is that metro authorities and contractors constantly strive to follow the standards, implement best practices, and be actively responsive to lessons learned.

Indian cities are expanding at a rapid pace, both in terms of size and number. Therefore, developing efficient mass transportation systems in cities is imminent to cater to the rapidly increasing urban population.

The aim must be to prioritise urban transport because the more people choose public transport, the better chance we have at saving the environment and the lives of future generations.