Accidents waiting to happen

Up to half of the construction deaths in Dubai are as a result of falls from height. Construction Week took to the streets of the emirate and neighbouring Sharjah to find out why so many site workers are falling to their deaths. Conrad Egbert and Rupert Cornford report.

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By  Rupert Cornford and Conrad Egbert Published  September 9, 2006

It is not hard to find ten different building sites in Dubai and Sharjah when you have two hours to kill. But finding a safe site in that period is not so easy, as Construction Week found out when we took to the streets to assess the safety of high-rise construction in the two emirates. All ten of the sites visited by CW displayed serious health and safety breaches, most typically a lack of edge protection, inadequate personal protective equipment and dangerous scaffolding. We presented our photographic evidence (some of which is reproduced here) to a top health and safety manager working for one of Dubai’s leading construction companies who branded our findings “shocking”. He said: “All the photos have a common theme, which essentially is lack of management control. This allows unsafe conditions and or unsafe acts. These situations can, and more often than not, do result in an incident or accident.” And any reduction in the industry’s grim tally of fatal accidents may demand a dramatic increase in the number of safety officers policing sites, according to Aju Sharfuddin, president of the Dubai branch of the World Safety Organisation. He said: “The safety regulations are in place and the standards are world class, but all on paper. The problem is that these regulations are not being followed and most of all these violations are linked to the ridiculous time constraints on projects. “Even the monitoring procedures are not half as good as they should be. I’ve worked for a few companies now and many of them have actually said no to good quality scaffolding, as it takes longer to put up, resulting in a compromise on quality.” He added: “Another reason, and probably the most important one, is that there are not enough inspectors from the government to inspect construction sites, which means contractors slack in their safety standards and end up having a complete disregard for human life.” In June this year, Dubai Municipality revealed that from January to May, there were 107 construction site accidents recorded, with almost half of them caused by falls from height or dropped equipment. Last year, according to official DM figures, there were 39 fatal accidents on building sites in the city and 22 of these deaths involved falls from height. In recent weeks, CW has reported on several fatal accidents. And on the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) project alone, at least five workers have fallen to their deaths in the past four months. In a statement to CW, the master developer for JBR, Dubai Properties, said: “Dubai Properties regrets the deaths of five workers on the Jumeirah Beach Residence site during the past four months. “Whilst any death is one too many, the number of accidents should be seen in the context of more than 25,000 workers hired by different contractors working at the site.” Now safety chiefs are calling for a radical culture change in the industry to prevent more lives being lost. “The media should expose all fatalities on a particular site,” said Sharfuddin. “Naming and shaming is the only way forward in this region as there is such a disregard for workers here. Companies should change their attitude towards their workers and begin to treat them as their own and not as borrowed hands. Unless this mentality is changed, it will be very difficult to ensure that safety regulations are followed.”

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