x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Time to take safety at work seriously

Safety is everyone's job, including an onus on workers to keep themselves safe as well as on their employers to provide a workplace in which the dangers have been mitigated.

All of us head to work each day with the expectation that we will return, safe and sound, afterwards. That was no doubt the expectation of one 34-year-old construction worker who, like thousands of others, arrived at his workplace in a tower being built in Abu Dhabi.

Instead, he ended up partially paralysed from injuries that stemmed in part from safety deficiencies on the job site. Now, as we reported yesterday, he has been awarded Dh600,000 in compensation by the appeals court. It is a victory for the injured worker - and also sends a clear message about the importance of safety standards throughout the UAE.

The court was told that the man fell from the tower's 59th floor, landing on his back on the floor below. He was left grievously injured and, as the sole breadwinner for his family, the accident also had serious consequences for those dependent on his earnings in the UAE.

The compensation awarded by the appeals court is four times the amount he had initially been awarded by a lower court and comes despite his employer claiming he deserved no more than Dh24,000.

The figure proposed by the company would have been manifestly inadequate for the extent of the unfortunate worker's physical and psychological injuries. They are likely to affect him for the rest of his life.

The Dh600,000 figure was a fraction of the Dh5 million he had sought but still has to be applauded. Not only does it help compensate the man for what he has lost but it also sends a clear message to the industry that there is no room for complacency in ensuring safety in the workplace, even in high-risk environments like tall buildings.

In some ways, this worker was fortunate in his dealings with the courts. Insurance companies in the UAE have an unfortunate record of doing all they can to avoid paying compensation claims and usually are able to recruit better lawyers than an injured worker could afford.

Safety is everyone's job - including an onus on workers to keep themselves safe as well as on their employers to provide a workplace in which the dangers have been mitigated.

For too long, lax employers have been able to treat compensation payments as a kind of business expense. A compensation award of this magnitude helps change that narrative and creates a powerful incentive to invest the time, effort and resources to ensure their workers are safe.