The Qatari authorities have launched an investigation amid reports that a Filipino man was involved in a forklift truck incident in which he slipped off a ramp while walking alongside the vehicle at a World Cup training base.
Asked by BBC reporters about the worker’s death on Thursday, Nasser Al-Khater said: “We’re in the middle of a World Cup and we have a successful World Cup and this is something you want to talk about right now?”
He added: “I mean, death is a natural part of life, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep.
“Of course, a worker died – our condolences go to his family.
“However, you know, I mean it’s strange that this is something you want to focus on as your first question.”
The issue of safety and treatment of migrant workers has been one of the most contentious aspects of the decision to award the tournament to Qatar, and estimates of casualties have varied wildly.
A Guardian investigation said more than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010, but this figure has been “categorically” denied by authorities.
Hassan Al-Thawadi, secretary-general of the Supreme Committee (SC) for Delivery and Legacy, said last month that between 400 and 500 migrants have died as a result of development linked to the tournament.
A Qatari government official said in a statement: “The incident is being investigated by the Qatari authorities.
“If the investigation concludes that safety protocols were not followed, the company will be subject to legal action and severe financial penalties.
“Compensation is paid through the workers’ support and insurance fund when a worker has been injured or passed away due to a work-related incident, or when an employer is unable to pay salaries.
“Over 350 million US dollars have been paid out through the fund this year.
“The rate of work-related accidents has consistently declined in Qatar since strict health and safety standards were introduced and enforcement has been stepped up through regular on-site inspections.”
A spokesman for the Supreme Committee, which is responsible for the tournament’s delivery and operations, said: “Due to the incident referred to having taken place on property not under the jurisdiction of the SC, and the deceased working as a contractor not under the remit of the SC, this matter is being handled by the relevant government authorities.
“The SC is following up with the same relevant authorities to ensure we are updated with developments pertaining to the investigation on a regular basis and has established contact with the family of the deceased to ensure relevant information is conveyed.”
Ella Knight, Amnesty International migrants’ labour rights researcher, said: “It’s terribly sad to hear about the death of yet another worker in Qatar, and investigating the incident is the very least the government should do.
“It’s vital that investigations are carried out not only for victims of industrial accidents but also for all other migrant workers whose deaths may be a result of their working conditions, including heat stress.
“Vast numbers of workers’ deaths are never investigated in Qatar, written off as simply due to ‘natural causes’ despite the clear health risks associated with toiling in the country’s extreme climate.
“To date, thousands therefore remain unexplained, leaving families struggling not only with their loss, but also with painful unanswered questions and severe financial hardship as they’re denied their right to remedy.”
The Sealine Beach Resort and world football governing body Fifa have been approached for comment.
An analysis of Qatar by the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency, showed that 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 and more than 500 were seriously injured, with 37,600 suffering mild to moderate injuries.
It noted that most were suffered by migrant workers from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, mainly in the construction industry, with falls from height and road traffic accidents the main causes of severe injuries – followed by falling objects on worksites.