Yesterday authorities reported that all the residents of the 416 households living in the buildings next to the site of the November 15 Jing’an fire have finally moved back into their homes. The two buildings continue to stand shrouded in scaffolding, however, as an eerie reminder of the culprit in the tragedy next door. Shoddy and flammable building materials were responsible for the rapid spread of the fire that claimed 58 lives and drew global attention to the disturbing lack of oversight and regulation in Chinese construction contracting. In response to the disaster, the local government yesterday announced an extensive overhaul of construction rules and practices in Shanghai.
It seems just about every angle of contracting, oversight and regulation in the Shanghai construction industry has been redone or amped up by the new regulations.
Most importantly, Shanghai government departments have been given a one-year deadline to relinquish all financial ties with construction companies.
The subcontractor responsible for the Jing’an fire, the Shanghai Jiayi Building Decoration Engineering Company, was said to have been owned by the wife of the chief of the Jing’an district. These kinds of ties between government and business can be really dangerous when it comes to construction contracting, where corruption results in lax oversight or blatant ignoring of violations.
Safety standards are another focus of the overhaul, as are illegal subcontracting practices. A “special act” has been passed to prompt watchdogs to immediately fix safety violations in construction and contracting around the city. Which begs the question: what were the watchdogs doing before?
Government officials and those in charge of construction companies who approve projects found to have legal or safety flaws “will face punishment upon discovery of serious violations.”
They also plan to beef up supervision, requiring prior approval of all subcontracting, as well as a monthly report by supervising companies of their projects. Apparently some renovation projects on older buildings have not only been breaking regulation, but aren’t even reported to the proper authorities before starting!
And finally, the city plans to create a database with information on construction workers, something that could prevent the employment of unlicensed welders like the ones responsible for sparking the November 15 fire.
Overall, it sounds like an excellent plan, and one that should hopefully minimize the risk of a similar tragedy in the future. Now all they need is somebody to go around and remove all the locks, bikes, and garbage from our fire exits.