Bunk bed disasters: Three-tier nightmare for workers

Each year many labourers end up with serious injuries after falling from bunk beds. Some end up crippled for life

Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/XPRESS
Death trap: With space at a premium thousands of workers end up having to sleep on unsafe bunk beds, risking injury and even death

Dubai: It’s bizarre but shocking — an increasing number of expatriate workers are falling from bunk beds, resulting in grave injuries, even death, according to an NGO.

Joseph Bobby, Vice-President of Valley of Love (VoL), told XPRESS that a 29-year-old Pakistani worker, who suffered a serious injury when he fell from the third tier of a bunk bed last month, is the latest of several such cases that have come to the NGO for help.

Mohammad Hanif was sound asleep on December 19 when he fell from the third tier of a makeshift bed in his Al Quoz labour camp. The painter suffered a crippling injury to his spinal cord and is being treated at a Dubai hospital.

“Another Indian worker from Kerala who fell from his bunk bed in a shared room in Satwa succumbed to his spinal injuries, leaving behind his wife and three-year-old daughter. We sent the body home and were in touch with the family to extend support,” said Bobby.

Many cases

Pam Gauri, VoL’s hospital coordinator, said: “We don’t know how many cases exist out there as many go unreported. But I can say we’ve been involved with at least 10 cases from one hospital alone.”

Though there is no official data available in the UAE, a study in the US has estimated that an average of 36,000 bunk-bed related injuries occur annually there. It said the most common bunk bed-related injuries include lacerations, contusions, abrasions and fractures, requiring hospitalisation. The areas most frequently injured include the head, neck and face.

In the UAE too, Bobby said most of the injuries he has come across are in the neck. He said the falls usually occur in shared accommodations at labour camps and villas where workers sometimes convert two-tier bunk beds into three tiers to save space and rent.

An Indian worker who was drunk and fell while getting to his second-tier bed, another Indian who rolled over in his sleep in a Naif villa, a Pakistani worker who similarly fell in a Sonapur room while reaching for a blanket that slipped, a fellow Pakistani whose bed just gave way — there are many such instances observed in the last four years, said Bobby. All of them involved severe injuries, with patients being crippled for life.

According to Gauri, “The standard bunk beds are 5 feet high, 6 feet long and 3 feet wide. But most workers are heavily-built. To top that, they extend the height of the bed sometimes by adding another tier. They also hang luggage and their clothes, all of which compromises safety.”

The case of Pakistani painter Hanif was no exception. He told XPRESS: “I had a long day and went to sleep as usual on the top-most level of a three-tier bed. We have six beds in our room and each bunk bed has two levels. But we created another level in our bed by extending its height with pipes just so that we could add another mattress below. It is not allowed, but we did it because we could split the rent by three.

“I was sleeping like this for two-and-a-half years and nothing happened.”

But December 19 proved different and Hanif found himself crashing down when he was in deep sleep. “I just tumbled and hit my head hard on the floor.

“I can’t believe that I cannot walk or move anymore. I was so happy earlier as I earned Dh1,200 a month. With that, I could ease my aged parents’ burden, get my two sisters married and give a good life to my two daughters who are four and two. Now I don’t know how we will manage.”

According to Build Safe UAE’s best practice guidelines for labour camps, adequate space should be provided to workers to prevent overcrowding in accordance with local laws, with six to eight people per room at the maximum. Four is preferred where practical.

Restrictions per room

The number of people per square metre should also be reviewed in keeping with regulations. Beds should be spaced apart, raised off the floor with safe access provided. Triple-deck bunks should not be used due to risk of falls.

Bobby said workers compromise on safety without the knowledge of authorities.

“Who is to blame in such cases? When something goes wrong, little help comes forth. At best, companies will give an air ticket back home. Stringent checks must be conducted on shared accommodations to prevent such incidents.”


How to Prevent Bunk Bed Falls

• Make sure guardrails are used on both sides of the upper bunk. Gaps recommended are 3.5 inches or less to prevent entrapment and strangulation

• Secure mattress foundation by using the right size

• Remove hazardous 
objects from the bed

• Do not place the bunk 
bed too close to ceiling fans 
or other fixtures

• Do not tamper with shape or size of the beds as they could compromise on safety

Your comments

  • Abu Amir

    Jan 31, 2013 11:52

    I would request authorities to build low cost houses for the labourers. They are the real winners of the modern UAE.With the rising cost of accommodation, it is difficult to provide them good services.Therefore, it would be great if we could possibly have a low budget city or area for labourers only.

  • Leo

    Jan 31, 2013 11:46

    Honouring the construction workers who are the key to building thenation is a must. Authorities/companies should make sure that all of them have a decent and safe accomodation.

  • Mohammad

    Jan 31, 2013 11:45

    This is an excellent article. Here is an industry specific data withanalysis and conclusion to let readers know that a lot of money is beingmade by bunk bed wholesalers - who should give back to the society by caringfor the disabled labourers. The lost man hours in construction companiesadversely impacts the project and overall economy of the country.Bunk Bed industry in the UAE is easily worth Dh1 billion per year (meanstotal sales in 365 days for all bunk beds sold in the UAE would be reaching abillion dirhams) and most of the beds are imported from China. Thisdenies Emaratis a chance to be a part of this attractive industry.This industry is characterized by mid-size wholesale companies withsales of Dh40 million per year; profit margin is at least 40%, pluscompanies buy bunk bed with pillow,duvet etc so profit increases. Ifanyone called a bunkbed dealer today he/she will find out not ONE bunkbed they imported in the UAE is ISO certified - so it is no wonder thatlabourers are losing their lives and construction companies are losing man hours due to greed of bunk bed suppliers. It is sadto note that Emiratization in the bunk bed industry is virtuallynil. This is unacceptable as these companies make huge profits out ofsales in the UAE, so it is their duty to give back to the economy andsociety. Demographics: 90% of the nationalities involved in thisindustry are Iranian, Pakistanis and Indians (especially from south India). How toreach them: You may find bunk bed suppliers on tradekey.com andalibaba.com. Readers will be appalled to note variety of bunk bedsavailable but wholesalers choose the one with least safety features toreduce cost and increase margin. The point is to raise social awareness,which is a direct way of giving back to society so that better bunk beds aresupplied and lives of labourers and man hours in the constructioncompanies are saved thus benefiting everyone.

  • Sabah

    Jan 31, 2013 9:55

    Government should take initiatives to restrict double or tripple beds, andonly single beds should be allowed anywhere in the Emirates/GCC to maintain to ensure the saftey of expatriates.

  • John

    Jan 31, 2013 9:14

    We are forced to house workers in these villages where bunkbeds are provided. They are the biggest source of complaints fromworkers, as most of them are disturbed during the night by the other occupants who keep moving. The units are free standing and not robust so any vibration isfelt by the workers. Since our workers moved there, the conditions have beensited regularly as a reason for resignation. A real backward step!

  • Mai

    Jan 31, 2013 7:27

    Poor things, after looking at those misfortunate people, we shouldalways be grateful for the things we have and remember how fortunate we are...

  • A. Sam Mathew

    Jan 31, 2013 4:48

    When I read the tragic accidents and the associated prolonged crisis oflife, it seems like certain precautionary measures could have avoidedmany tragedies. I do remember like yesterday, sleeping at the top ofthe three-tier bunk bed at my college dormitory 42 years back in the USA,cried for a week straight with homesickness, missed mum and the rest athome, the head almost touched the celling, which was not a pleasantexperience in life to remember.

  • Javed

    Jan 31, 2013 12:44

    I lived in the UAE for almost 10 years. There are several safetymeasures for living in every part of the UAE. There are laws whichstates safety measures both for residential and commercial places. Butall the measures and laws related to accommodation of workers areignored and even the law makers often don't care. Authorities should imposeheavy fines on these owners who ignore the law and allow 4 to 5 peoplein one room meant only for two.

  • keenan

    Jan 30, 2013 11:25

    With the rents going up and landlords becoming greedy,and salaries not increasing for years, how do you expect these poor laborersto stay? They get very poor salaries, they have to pay foraccommodation, their food, and most of all send money back to theirfamilies. Do you think the anyone really cares? It's all about money at the end of the day. Real estate is the biggest cause of all these inflationin the market. It's greed that makes most people lose their humanity.

Latest Comment

I would request authorities to build low cost houses for the labourers. They are the real winners of the modern UAE.With the rising cost of accommodation, it is difficult to provide them good services.Therefore, it would be great if we could possibly have a low budget city or area for labourers only.

Abu Amir

31 January 2013 12:30jump to comments