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Safety concerns? What safety concerns??

As anyone who has visited a developing country in Asia knows, the safety standards for virtually any activity (from constructing a high-rise apartment building, to just crossing the street) are radically different to those in developed countries.

But for those who have only ever lived their life in a country like Cambodia, they’re blissfully unaware of another standard.

Apartment construction workers Cambodia
Construction workers building an apartment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

These construction workers are labouring on the fifth floor of another rapidly-rising apartment tower just behind my place. Installing steel reinforcement and timber formwork for the next concrete pour, they perch silhouetted dramatically against the skyline, a surreal display of human ingenuity, bravery, and perhaps desperation.

The clanging of machinery, grinding of steel, and continual commotion commences about 7am and continues until dusk. If there is any legislation to protect the workers (or the neighbours), it’s certainly not enforced here in Phnom Penh. And this construction site is just one of about thirty similar green-shrouded edifices that I can see sprouting like mushrooms from my vantage point in Toul Tom Poung, Phnom Penh.

There is no doubt that Phnom Penh is burgeoning, with a continual influx of foreign aid and NGO dollars, as well huge wealth accumulating in the pockets of powerful Cambodian businessmen/officials (there’s frequently little distinction — most of the businessmen are officials and vice versa). With rental demand and prices driven continually higher by the ever-increasing number of expat workers, the frenetic pace of development is evident on every street — new construction, prestige car dealerships, restaurants and cafés, a major shopping mall, and numerous other services catering to foreigners and the wealthy. There’s a Rolls Royce, Range Rover, or Audi Q7 on almost every corner.

Yet, in the midst of all the development, you can’t help but feel at times that the vast majority are benefitting very little from this ‘progress’. Construction workers continue to risk life and limb every day, defying death to earn about $100 per month. It would cost them about half a day’s wages to pay for a small caffe latté at my preferred local café. The Cambodian Government continues to fail miserably at providing any services or infrastructure for their constituents, the elected officials acquire millions of dollars of assets and evict the poor from land they would like to use, and nothing seems to happen unless an NGO does it with foreign donor dollars.

All I know is that, tomorrow morning, I’ll again be woken by the sound of these construction workers clamouring on the construction site and climbing toward the heavens to earn another $5. I hope they’ll return to their family alive at the end of the day.