The working conditions at the Metro expansion construction sites in Copenhagen are so criticisable that the Danish Working Environment Authority (Arbejdstilsynet) has reported 38 cases to the police in just two years.
The numbers were revealed by the trade union magazine Fagbladet 3F, which obtained an internal Arbejdstilsynet report through a freedom of information request.
The 38 police complaints are roughly four times the normal number of complaints in similarly sized construction projects, Fagbladet 3F reports.
An explosion that nearly killed two Metro workers in October 2013 and numerous incidents of workers welding without safety masks are among the violations of the Working Environment Act (arbejdsmiljøloven) that Arbejdstilsynet has reported to police prosecutors. Another minor underground explosion led to two less serious injuries earlier this month.
In the October explosion, two Polish employees nearly lost their lives when acetone was ignited while they were welding. One of the men was hospitalised for 25 days and the other for ten. Their employer, the temp agency Ohmnia, allegedly tried to convince the men to leave Denmark and return to Poland.
“I laid in the hospital unable to even wipe my own butt, and I received calls telling me it would be better to go home and be treated in Poland. Then the problem would be in Poland and not in Denmark,” one of the men, who wished to remain anonymous, told Fagbladet 3F, earlier this month. “That paints a pretty clear picture of how Ohmnia treats its employees.”
Ohmnia denied the allegations and said that they simply called to check on the men and ask if they would prefer to stay in Denmark or return home.
The injured man was very critical of the overall working conditions on the Metro expansion project.
“I have worked all of my life, in Bulgaria, in Germany and in other countries, but I have never experienced such poor working conditions and security as when I started on the [Metro] construction,” he said.
Even though the men were employed by Ohmnia, it was the Italian subcontractor Seli that was legally responsible for security at the working site. Seli was the source of eight of Arbejdstilsynet’s 38 references to the police. The consortium Copenhagen Metro Team, which consists of three Italian firms, received eleven of the complaints.
Kirsten Jørgensen, an associate professor at the Technical University of Denmark who specialises in workplace accident prevention, said the high number of police complaints was shocking.
“It seems as if they don’t have control of the security situation at the Metro,” she told Fagbladet 3F. “One of the causes could be that they have brought in so many foreign subcontractors that don’t prioritise safety.”
Metroselskabet, the company behind the Metro construction project, said a plan was in place to improve safety.
“There are still too many injunctions at the construction sites and therefore Metroselskabet is working every day toward improving the conditions and the sites in collaboration with our subcontractors,” spokesman Peder Mandrup Knudsen told Fagbladet 3F.
In addition to the safety problems, the Metro expansion project has been hampered by noise complaints and delays. The project was originally supposed to be completed by December 2018, but is far behind schedule.