Health and safety on construction sites has long been a sensitive area for the industry. It is used by critics to challenge companies, while industry players often promote good performance as a major achievement.

Previous MEED/Mashreq Construction reports have highlighted that the regional construction industry could do better in standardising and enforcing safety regulations. Lack of training and stringent regulation and unwillingness to absorb the added costs by the contractor have all been cited as barriers to a safer industry.

Legislation

About 86 per cent of the industry survey participants believe regional governments could do more to enforce regulations when it comes to health and safety management in the region.

“[There needs to be] consistent application and enforcement across the full scope of contractors,” said one survey respondent. “Not just focus on multinational companies and large local companies. Treat all contractors the same.”

“[There should be] common regulations in the UAE,” said another. “[There] should be no difference between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.”

“While the government is making clear progress towards improving its health and safety standards in the construction industries with a lot of recent changes, the lack of unified and prescriptive legislation is causing the contractor to experience challenges when overseeing large and culturally diverse workforces on complex and usually fast-paced construction projects,” says Mohammad Bidad, group health, safety and environment manager at Arabian Construction Company.

Bidad explains that there is a lack of a single, uniform body or authority responsible for health and safety monitoring, regulating and prosecuting across the UAE.

“The Ministry of Labour, Dubai Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, Zones Corp and the Abu Dhabi Occupational Safety and Health Centre, among others, each produce their own legislation, guidance and documentation.”

Speaking for the UAE construction industry, James McMillan, a senior associate at Al-Tamimi & Company, says the UAE’s health and safety laws are a little fragmented at a federal level and “if the business is located within a free zone, different health and safety regulations and standards may apply”.

At a national level, the UAE Federal Labour Law No 8 of 1980 stipulates worker health and safety guidelines. In Dubai, health and safety is upheld by the Dubai Municipality Code of Practice for Construction Projects, and similarly in Abu Dhabi there is a Code of Practice for Construction Projects, which includes levels of training and reporting procedures.

“Construction in a desert climate is, however, a very challenging health and safety environment,” says McMillan. “To ensure compliance, greater enforcement will be necessary and potentially a specific federal level health and safety law.”

International scrutiny

The announcement of high-profile, world events such as Expo 2020 in Dubai and the Fifa World Cup 2022 in Qatar have put the region under an international spotlight. With the world’s eyes on the regional construction industry, the sector needs to maintain better health and safety standards.

“Post the announcement of the Expo 2020 event, the emirate is a wave of opportunity,” remarks Bidad. “The government [set] aside AED17bn ($4.62bn) in the 2016 budget for infrastructure development up till 2020. The investment spreads over different asset classes broadly covering housing, roads, railways, schools, health facilities and public buildings.

“While offering huge opportunities, the contractors in the emirate have also been requested to develop and improve the level of health and safety in their operations.”

For Tier 1 contractors, such as Alec, this increased scrutiny is not a problem.

“We welcome the scrutiny as it helps level the playing field in terms of competition,” says managing director Barry Lewis.

“Our company policies are aligned with international best practice. The challenge, however, still exists within subcontractors and the supply chain as they have not necessarily fully grasped the seriousness or implications of compliance.”

Technology

Increasingly, technologies such as wearable sensors, protective exoskeleton suits and robots are finding favour in the construction industry.

However, without set regulations and standards, the market will control how the industry uses the technology, since competition between service providers would be based on lowest-price solutions. This could result in conflicting and possibly hazardous products.

About 81 per cent of our survey respondents believe the government should standardise such technology. Many also suggest incentivisation for those who implement technology solutions.

There are also others who think both the technology and the market need to be much more mature before the government takes any steps.

“Technology imported into the UAE should ensure conformity with GCC Standardisation Organisation (GSO) standards,” explains McMillan. “Any product being offered for sale in the UAE should also be registered with Emirates Authority for Standardisation & Metrology (ESMA).”

McMillan adds that ESMA and GSO will often adopt EU/US or International Electrotechnical Commission standards in relation to new technology in the market.

“International standards are often directly applicable in the region and if suppliers of such technology can provide testing certificates and certification of compliance from other jurisdictions, GSO and ESMA will often accept such evidence of compliance.

“Regulators are playing catch up, and will require time and any epidemiological evidence of the use of technology before considering whether further regulations are required. Certain regulators are already forward thinking—for example, in the UAE, Dubai Health Authority introduced Telemedicine Regulations in 2017, which in theory could allow workers remote access to a healthcare practitioner from a construction site.”

This article is extracted from a report produced by MEED and Mashreq titled Regulating Construction: Adapting to New Standards. Click here to download the report

To know more about the MEED Mashreq Partnership, get in touch with us at MEEDMashreqPartnership@meed.com or find more info on www.meedmashreqconstructionhub.com