Construction Week Newsletter 22nd January 2005

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By  Eudore Chand Published  January 22, 2005

Editorial Leader|~||~||~|

Need to study safety at sea and land

A new year has started and on its heels has come the first construction fatality in the United Arab Emirates. Unlike the Tsunami that killed close to 150 000 people from Indonesia across to Sri Lanka, the ‘little’ wave that surged atop the waters of the Gulf 16 days later, carried off an Indian worker from off the unfinished Palm Jebel Ali. According to officials, two others, who were also swept into the water, managed to scramble back to safety. The coastal management authorities have clarified that the wave action was not unusual and that it was unrelated to any seismic activity. The surge in the Gulf waters on 11th January 2005 was said to have been caused by a combination of the seasonal ‘shamal’ (north wind) and high spring tides. The two unrelated incidents bring up two major issues, both related to safety — one is the safety of those who work and live near the sea and the second is about the safety of structures on or near the sea. Thinking about the two issues has become paramount, not just because of the Indian Ocean Tsunami or the wave surge in the Gulf, but also because of the wave of reclamation that has kicked off along the Arabian coast of the Gulf in recent years. The fact that a relative ‘wavelet’ could sweep off a construction worker to his death from off a reclamation project is something that needs to be looked into. Something went wrong somewhere. The developers say that the workers who were swept off were perhaps ignoring safety rules and that they may have got too close to the shore out of curiosity. They say they are investigating the issue. Nobody has been taken into custody. The body of the worker had not been found at the time of writing, so it is presumed that he is dead. The incident indicates some negligence of safety norms from whichever quarter. It should never have happened. Investigation will show what went wrong and, hopefully, action will be taken to prevent such accidents in future. Though the loss of a human life is tragic, the other aspect, that of safety of structures, was ably demonstrated. Two days after the surge, the developer Nakheel took the press corps around the Palms Jumeirah and Jebel Ali and the upcoming The World reclamation projects. There was no obvious damage to the structures. The breakwaters, made up with rocks that weigh an average of one ton each, withstood the wave action. However, incidents like these remind us of the need to pause and think. Reclamation on the current scale is a new phenomenon in Gulf waters. And, generally, there is almost always a lag by the time statute books are updated and authorities put in laws and rules to regulate new initiatives by the private sector. Now is the time to reassess if we have good enough laws governing reclamation activity and the development of structures on huge man-made projects that protrude well into the sea. The second thing that needs to be looked into is a standardisation of regulations not only across the Gulf, but also in line with world standards. Huge reclamation projects are taking place not just in Dubai, but also in Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia, while Kuwait also has plans. The third thing that impacts on structures in the Gulf is the increasing unease among the scientific community that a seismic fault may cut across the region. Iran has had several severe earthquakes accompanied by great loss of life and property, while frequent tremors have been reported in Dibba, Masafi and Fujairah in the UAE. What is needed is a GCC-sponsored think tank or study group that could research various aspects of building activity, especially with regards to new phenomena like reclamation at sea and high-rise structures on land and at sea. More exchange of ideas and information between experts needs to be undertaken. The subject should be on conference agendas and should be discussed at as many forums as possible. Input from global experts should be welcomed. Conclusions should be made public and should form the basis of a GCC-wide code, as is the case with the import of passenger automobiles under a GCC specifications list. After all, it is the stated objective of the GCC member states to have meaningful integration – and what better way to achieve it than through Gulf-wide laws, especially those governing safety, whether at land or sea.||**||

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