ABU DHABI // Construction companies that fail to give labourers safety training for work on building sites could be refused building permits, safety inspectors have warned.
The onus will be on developers and contractors to ensure workers have undergone adequate training that could save their lives before they are assigned to work with heavy equipment and on scaffolding.
Changing attitudes is one of the biggest challenges, health and safety officials said.
"It's kind of like starting at zero," said Hashem al Balooshi, an inspectorate manager with Al Ain Municipality. "Large companies have always had their own health, safety and environment regulations in place, but this is something new for small companies."
The Government’s Environment, Health and Safety Management System (EHSMS) guidelines are designed to create safer workplaces, build employee trust and minimise pollution and waste, and are a requirement for all sectors.
However, the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) – which is overseeing the implementation of the EHSMS for all sectors in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia by next year – has targeted the construction sector due to the high number of safety-related accidents.
In 2009, at least 10 construction workers died in accidents in the UAE. The same year, the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi reported 108 workplace deaths.
Seven other sectors including oil and gas, tourism, and transportation and waste will also be required to develop EHSMS plans.
“Our policy now is to educate on regulations and how to develop systems,” said Abdulaziz Zurub, of Abu Dhabi Municipality.
“We’re here to educate about environment, health and safety culture. This is a continuous process for us. This is our job.”
The DMA and other Government agencies have stepped up health, safety and environment policies in recent months as worker safety became an increasing concern.
Last year, Abu Dhabi Municipality announced it would only issue work permits for construction projects that implement comprehensive safety plans.
The DMA performs regular audits and inspections, including unannounced visits to sites, to make sure companies are following safety procedures.
More than 130 companies use an online reporting system to submit monthly reports on meeting EHSMS indicators. “We don’t want to lose why we do this,” said Ng Ah-tzuh, a health and safety expert working in Al Gharbia.
“Abu Dhabi is developing fast, and we need to be on the cutting edge. It’s not just about developing the tallest buildings. It’s also about making sure we’re on the world stage for safety, too.”
Last month, more than 400 construction experts and specialists from the private sector attended a DMA-hosted EHSMS workshop on rules and regulations related to health, safety and environment in the construction industry.
And the new laws appeared to be taking hold among some construction companies.
Shadi al S’ady, the health and safety manager at Nael and Bin Harmal Hydroexport, said his company had introduced a simple, step-by-step training procedure to help protect its 11,000-strong workforce, in compliance with EHSMS guidelines.
“We’ve developed a system that we think is unique to our company, because we make the education very simple for the labourers in workshops and training, and very sophisticated on the administration level,” Mr al S’ady said.
At Al Fara’a Integrated Construction Group, which employs 18,000 workers in the UAE, health, safety and environment policies are “always the first priority on the agenda”, said Chimanlal Gangaramani, the company’s vice chairman.
“Safety begins with everyone,” Mr Gangaramani said. “It’s not one person’s responsibility. Everyone on the job site has to be thinking about safety all the time.”
Companies have begun offering training, workshops and induction programmes in different languages, with labourers receiving updates on safety procedures.
Mr al S’ady said his company even provided illustrated safety handouts.
“Everyone works well with paperwork, but it doesn’t always make it down the ladder to the worker,” Mr al S’ady said.