Region's biggest event prioritises health

07 April 2021
On World Health Day 2021, Dubai Expo 2020 outlines its strategy to safeguard workers on site

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The health, safety and wellbeing of its vast workforce has been a top priority for Dubai Expo 2020 from the very beginning of its journey – and never more so than during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the region's first mega-event of this size and scale, the expo's dedicated health and safety and worker welfare team of sector and regional specialists see the upcoming six-month exhibition as an opportunity, and responsibility, to contribute to a meaningful legacy.

This is being achieved through the provision of an emergency centre, with direct access to a helipad; Covid testing and vaccines; online counselling; diabetes checks; eye exams and more. 

Here, Emma Seymour, vice-president of worker welfare at Expo 2020 Dubai (pictured, right), discusses the pandemic response and carefully developed strategy to keep everyone on site safe and healthy – as well as enlightened about their cardiovascular health and sleep patterns thanks to the use of the latest health tech.

Q. How did Expo 2020 adapt and overcome the challenges introduced by the Covid-19 health crisis? 

"The Covid-19 pandemic put our commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of our workforce even more sharply into focus, and we worked quickly to implement a far-reaching programme of precautionary measures across the entire site, working closely with the UAE Ministry of Health & Prevention and Dubai Health Authority. 

"Equally, clear and regular communication with all our contractors has always been important, but during the pandemic this has become even more critical, and we have worked hard to ensure that all contractors understand and comply with government regulations.

"For example, each contractor has been required to produce and implement project-specific Covid-19 risk assessments and plans on a variety of levels – from social distancing and PPE provisions on site, to revised transport capacities and the deep cleaning and sanitisation of worker accommodation. 

"In addition to this, we worked with Dubai Health Authority to open three medical and Covid-19 testing facilities on site, and liaised closely with our contractors to support the implementation of widespread vaccination programmes across their workforce." 

Q. How effective has the Expo 2020’s approach to worker welfare been?

"Better Together is Expo 2020’s overarching strategic approach to health and safety and worker welfare. It is a positive, values-driven approach that we can already see is encouraging a shift in behaviour, setting new benchmarks for worker welfare, health and safety.

"There are six pillars of the strategy – leadership, communication, competency, engagement, reward and recognition, and continual improvement. Each includes a number of different activities and programmes.

"For example, training is a key part of the competency pillar, so we have developed a range of health-and-safety training courses that are offered to Expo consultants, contractors and subcontractors at all levels of seniority, in a variety of languages and formats.

"To date, we have delivered training to more than 30,000 frontline workers, 3,000 supervisors, 2,000 senior leaders and 2,000 managers.

"Earlier this year, we were proud to see our efforts acknowledged by the British Safety Council – widely regarded as one of the world’s leading health-and-safety bodies – when Expo 2020 became one of only 66 organisations globally to receive the prestigious Sword of Honour, in recognition of our ongoing dedication to worker welfare, health and safety."

Expo workers attend a training session as part of Expo 2020's Better Together strategy

Q. How has technology supported this strategy?

"Technology, and in particular the idea of ‘technology for good’, is a key concept at Expo 2020, and this extends to the welfare of our workforce.

"For example, the Expo Worker Wellness Programme, which launched in October 2017, aimed to lead the global conversation on how technology could be used to create a safer working environment on constructions sites around the world.

"As part of the programme, more than 5,000 expo workers wore Whoop wearable devices, which collected more than 13TB of data across 30 months, enhancing preventative healthcare by providing personalised reports on areas such as cardiovascular health and sleep patterns. 

"We also harnessed virtual solutions during the pandemic, ensuring the continued implementation of our worker welfare strategy, including additional Covid-19 safety requirements. This included virtual inspections of worker accommodation, virtual meetings with health-and-safety practitioners of all on-site contractors, and virtual reward and recognition ceremonies, highlighting the contractors who have excelled in introducing these additional safety precautions during the pandemic.

"At the beginning of 2019, we also launched our Worker Connect app, which is available in multiple languages and allows workers to read the latest information on their employment rights and anonymously report any concerns or issues.

"During the pandemic, we have also used the app to communicate the additional health-and-safety measures we have implemented."

Q. What role has the expo's Emergency Centre played so far?

"Expo’s Emergency Centre has been open and fully operational since November 2018. It is the first of its kind on a construction site in the region and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, operated by Dubai Health Authority. 

"The centre has the facilities and staff required to provide emergency medical care and preventative healthcare, including a team of about 20 doctors and nurses; triage, isolation and recovery rooms; and direct access to a helipad.

"It has also been used as a Covid testing facility and a base from which to offer a range of worker health services, including blood sugar tests, dental checks and eye examinations."

Q. Once construction and related activities cease on the expo site, will your strategy extend to the volunteers and other Expo staff on site?

"Our commitment to health, safety and wellbeing extends to everyone who is part of Expo 2020 – including our workforce, both office-based and site-based, as well as our participants and, of course, our visitors.  This runs throughout the pre-event and event-time phases.

"As an example, a vaccination hub was opened on-site in collaboration with Al-Tadawi Healthcare Group at the beginning of the year, and we launched an online Covid-19 Information Hub accessible by all staff, a Covid-19 helpline and an online counselling service. 

"In the past few months, we have also put in place a number of additional health-and-safety precautions as we welcomed thousands of members of the public to the expo site for an exciting preview of Terra – the Sustainability Pavilion.

"This included mandatory pre-booking of tickets before arrival, enabling us to control visitor flow and venue capacities; a dedicated support team to ensure the implementation of social-distancing measures; the installation of thermal cameras and sanitisation stations; and specialist staff and facilities made available to manage any potential medical issues.

"We were proud to receive the Dubai Assured stamp from the Government of Dubai, in recognition of our compliance with the relevant precautionary measures, safety standards and protocols."

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