Feature Emergency Medicine

Urban building collapse: what are the health implications?

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g5256 (Published 22 August 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5256
  1. Patralekha Chatterjee, journalist, New Delhi
  1. patralekha.chatterjee{at}gmail.com

Mass deaths after the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka in 2013 were met with global outcry, alerting the world to collapse of buildings as a huge problem in South Asia. Patralekha Chatterjee reports on continuing difficulties

A string of disasters in India’s big cities has sparked public fury and focused attention on what causes buildings to collapse. In early July one person died when a building under construction collapsed in downtown Mumbai. In June, a crumbling four storey building in New Delhi collapsed killing 10, including five children, and injuring several others. Also in June, an 11 storey structure under construction in Chennai failed, resulting in the deaths of 61 people.

A total of 3074 structures (including houses, other buildings, and bridges) collapsed in India in 2013, up from 2764 the previous year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.1 In 2013, building collapse was responsible for the death of 1379 people and a further 384 were injured.

A report in the Economic and Political Weekly considered the Chennai collapse, noting that investigators, supervised by the police, had found that the construction site was on “unsafe ground.”2

Several people have been arrested, but the report pointed out, “The tragedy . . . is not just the loss of life, but often employees’ lack of knowledge of laws that entitle them to compensation through a grievance redress mechanism.” This is compounded by government indifference and collusion with employers, the article says, hampering efforts to prosecute under, for example, the Workmen’s Compensation Act or the Building and Other Construction Workers Act.

Rana Plaza

The problem is not confined to India. In April 2013 the Rana Plaza, a multistorey building built on …

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