x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

All must help build a culture of safety

Reducing the toll from accidents is everyone's business, individually and collectively. We need a widespread "culture of safety".

In Dubai, a piece came loose from a Ferris wheel and killed a man strolling below. In Sharjah, a 16-month-old boy died after a fall from a fifth-storey window. In Ajman, a labourer died when his scaffolding collapsed. In Ras Al Khaimah a man working in mountainous terrain fell to his death.

These separate incidents this month have something in common besides death: all four could have been - indeed, should have been - prevented. Added to the monthly toll of traffic deaths, these four fatalities remind us that strict rules and good emergency-response facilities, while essential, are no substitute for another attribute still not sufficiently widespread in the UAE: the culture of safety.

News reports suggest that in all four cases, first responders were efficient and medical care was promptly available. A helicopter was dispatched in the mountain incident. The Ferris wheel, at Dubai's Global Village, had been inspected after it was put up; published reports say the part that fell was a lighting element added later. Ajman and Sharjah have been working for more than a year on window safety, after a sad series of such accidents in Sharjah.

But accidents continue. They always will, of course: nothing in life can be perfectly safe. All the ingenuity of our engineers and all the warnings from our officials will not be enough to protect everyone. Reducing the toll from all sorts of accidents is really everyone's business, individually and collectively. That's where the "culture of safety" comes in.

Abdullah Mohammad Al Habsi, the Armed Forces member killed under the Ferris wheel, could not have foreseen his improbable fate. But somebody rigged that metal rod, under the supervision of somebody else, and plainly they could have thought harder about the risks to those below.

The little boy could not have understood that an open window threatened him; his parents, who did, will always regret their lapse in attention. But who designed windows that can open so widely? As for the labourers, were they wearing safety harness? If not, why not?

Being safe can be a tedious business: slow, costly, boring, demanding. But keeping yourself safe is your own responsibility first, and then that of other people, and of officialdom. Everybody has to work at it. The alternative, as we keep learning, can be much worse.