Building safety must receive greater scrutiny

Rescuers work at the collapse site of a self-constructed residential building in Changsha, Central China's Hunan province, May 1, 2022. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

The collapse of a private building in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, on Friday, leaving more than 60 people trapped or missing, once again reminds people what a heavy price may be paid for unauthorized changes to a building's structure, as a result of the pursuit of maximum profits by some private house owners, and the dereliction of duty on the part of contractors, quality supervisors and local officials.

The tragedy has drawn attention of the top leadership, with President Xi Jinping on Saturday urging that every effort be made to search for survivors and treat the injured. He also called for a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident and for a special safety inspection to be carried out on all private buildings nationwide. As of Tuesday, nine people had been rescued and two people were confirmed dead. An investigation into the incident is already underway.

That several people allegedly responsible for the building's design, construction, quality assessment and certification have been arrested indicates the "human factors" behind the collapse. They must be punished in accordance with the law if found guilty to prevent similar tragedies.

Indeed, many lives have been lost due to buildings being illegally modified or used for purposes for which they were not designed. A little more than two years ago, a hotel being used as a COVID-19 quarantine facility collapsed on March 7 in Quanzhou, Fujian province, killing 29 people. Investigations later found the seven-story building had been illegally changed from a four-story one in violation of renovation and reinforcement rules.

That incident exposed many of the problems in the private construction sector including violation of the laws and rules on urban planning, construction design, and work safety, as well as the use of fake test reports and other fabricated documents to get government approval for construction and reconstruction. Dozens of people held responsible for the incident were arrested and later received prison sentences for the crimes they had committed. But obviously, that has not prevented people who still want to take chances, from trying to test the limits of the law in pursuit of maximum profits, even at the expense of human lives.

It is of utmost importance to ensure longer service life of structures and public safety. Urban planning officials at all levels must realize the heavy responsibility they shoulder in protecting people's lives, and therefore should try their best to root out irregularities in the construction, inspection and assessment processes so that there are no collapses of buildings due to human factors in the future.