x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Even Abu Dhabi's safe sites have room to improve

The National tags along with a construction site inspection team for a day.

ABU DHABI // Three labourers working on the facade of a villa under construction at the Al Bateen Park Development stand atop scaffolding affixed with a "Not in Use" tag.

Among the bags of dry cement sitting on a forklift, one is leaking contents. Two men without hard hats walk along the pathway, directly underneath a tangle of pipes and cables.

As a municipal inspection team arrives for a scheduled assessment, one of the entrance gates is blocked by construction vehicles.

"This is obviously not very safe," says Abdulaziz Zurub, head of health and safety at the municipality, as he quizzes labourers standing nearby on safety procedures for visitors.

"These are all minor infractions, but the inspectors are looking for everything."

A construction site inspector's job is to be a nitpicker. From the moment he steps foot on a site, he is trained to take in the entire scene and pinpoint the hazards. Dangerous and life-threatening situations are dealt with first; minor mistakes elicit a stern lecture.

A team of inspectors from the city's cadre of specialists typically visits three to five construction sites a day, but the huge Aldar development project in Al Bateen requires a seven-person team. The inspectors start their day meeting site health and safety personnel, receiving updates on recent incidents and questioning labourers about their knowledge of the site's requirements.

Aju Sharafuddin, the health and safety manager for Seidco General Contracting, informs the team that his company offers instructions and training in six languages to the job's 4,000 workers. Never has the site received a fine from the municipality for a health and safety violation.

"We want to be the highest standard," Mr Sharafuddin says.

The team tours the site, noting violations small and large and demanding immediate corrective action. Fire extinguishers and safety equipment are evaluated, and permits are checked.

"We don't fine for everything, only if there is an immediate danger," says one inspector, as he points out some loose wood lying on the pathway in the shadow of a half-erected villa.

The municipality has 18 designated health and safety inspectors, and 40 engineers with the building permits department have also been trained to look for hazards while out on daily visits.

The Al Bateen Park Development is one of the models of best health and safety practices, Mr Zurub says, but "there are still some areas for improvement".

"There needs to be more effort to continue being safe on your site," he says in his end-of-the-day site evaluation. "You are doing a good job of protecting life, the environment, your assets, and your name in the market. Keep it up."

However, inspectors are having more trouble at smaller sites in the capital, especially those without in-house safety teams.

"We are finding some companies are not looking at the safety plans they developed and that were required," Mr Zurub says. "We are working to ensure they are knowledgeable about what their responsibilities are."