Building-site safety is a big issue that tends to be obscured behind confusing statistical data.
Full data needed on worksite safety
If you can't measure it, they say in business schools around the world, then you can't manage it.
The adage applies directly to the issue of workplace safety, where a welter of confusing and partial statistics creates difficulty in understanding the scope of the problem. This in turn removes any urgency from efforts to improve the situation.
What figures we do have warn us that the problem is not trivial. We know, for example, that over the last five years Abu Dhabi has reported between 70 and 80 deaths per year on building sites, three quarters of the fatalities resulting from falls. (Last year's death toll is listed at 71.) And we know that in Dubai, 76 construction workers died in accidents in 2010, but the toll fell to 50 last year; non-fatal injuries and the total number of reported accidents also fell.
But without clear figures on the number of workers and man-hours in the construction sector each year, such figures may obscure actual trends. As The National reported yesterday, the increased number of accidents on Dubai building sites in the first four months of this year was blamed on the revived pace of construction, but more details are needed.
Figures for serious accidents in other lines of work are even more obscure. And in any case, reported building site statistics are often flawed, as a UAE University study found in 2009. Information recorded in each case may be incomplete, making analysis leading to better standards difficult. And non-fatal accidents may not always be reported.
In the absence of comprehensive, public, countrywide official data, the outlines of the issue are for practical purposes obscured in a cloud of incomplete and partial information.
To be sure, authorities have launched a number of initiatives to improve safety on building sites. Abu Dhabi has recently started a new building-site safety campaign called Height Aware, for example. Between 2010 and 2011, Dubai increased the number of official site inspections per year by more than 50 per cent. That emirate will also require every construction firm to name an accredited safety officer.
But there is still a long way to go. One expert recently told Construction Week that the GCC is "10 to 15 years behind Europe" in building-site safety. This is a gap that should be closed. Nobody wants to work or live in a building with blood in its foundations.