On-site safety standards set for shake-up in GCC

In the glare of the media spotlight, many contractors have been quick in their attempts to reverse the ‘laissez-faire’ approach to on-site safety. Zoe Naylor looks at the latest industry attempts to provide a safe working environment for construction labourers in the GCC.

  • E-Mail
By  Zoe Naylor Published  October 22, 2005

|~|92prod200.gif|~|Companies in the Middle East have started to look at various international standards to see which can be best applied to projects in the region.|~|Working at height is one of the biggest causes of fatalities in the construction industry, and yet a quick drive around the local building sites will prove that a worrying number of projects are still using makeshift safety systems — if any at all. “When we see things like two posts with red tape across as the method of edge protection on sites, then that is rather worrying,” says Daniel Taylor, business development manager at Aluma Systems Middle East. Aluma Systems provides industrial scaffolding services, and in a bid to improve on-site safety in the region the company is offering edge protection as standard with its formwork systems. “Our Aluma Shield Edge Protection System is produced here in the UAE, which allows us to quickly supply contractors with a commercially viable system that greatly improves upon the current edge protection being utilised in the region,” says Taylor. The company’s Alumalite Truss Flying Tables will be supplied with the edge protection panels attached, and Aluma is also distributing the panels as the general means of edge protection for casted slabs. According to Taylor, on-site safety in the region can leave a lot to be desired: “In the UK and other Western markets, the edge protection laws are much stricter. A lot of contractors there use larger, full mesh panels to stop items such as tools and debris falling from the temporary works or cast slab; they also give greater protection to workers.” While Taylor believes that the majority of contractors in the Middle East do want to progress and evolve edge protection safety methods, he says that a lot of the time it is simply not commercially viable for them to do so when cheaper safety options are available. “For the smaller sites, where budgets for edge protection are probably non-existent, it probably isn’t something contractors would be able to look at. But on the medium to large-scale projects, and especially any tower structure, contractors should definitely be considering it as the way forward,” says Taylor. While there are numerous practical measures that can be taken to improve site safety, there is a more fundamental issue that can present a problem when working in such a multi-cultural region — the language barrier. “This is one of the biggest challenges we currently face in terms of on-site safety,” says Russell Bennett, senior safety co-ordinator at Al Futtaim Carillion. Bennett’s safety remit includes various zones at the Dubai Festival City project. He works with a team of safety advisors who between them speak a range of languages; and the company has also produced a safety video which will be translated into Nepalese, Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil, Thai, Arabic and Tagalog — in a bid to overcome the language barrier amongst workers on site. Al Futtaim Carrillion was the first company in the GCC to be accredited with a fully integrated management system combining safety, environmental and quality systems. “Safety is all about education,” says Bennett. “The workers here come from a range of countries and sometimes you need to make the education more specific, as opposed to a general site induction. “If you look at the safety legislation in Dubai, it’s behind the times when compared to somewhere like the UK, and it’s going to take a few years to get people here up to speed,” he adds. But despite the challenges, Bennett believes the situation can only change for the better: “Site safety here is often looked upon as being non-productive, and it can be hard when not everyone shares a common language. But it is rewarding to see the workers putting into practice what they’ve learnt in their induction, for example using a full body safety harness when working at height.” Paul Grundy, managing director of S&B Fencing believes much of the problem stems from a laissez-faire attitude towards safety amongst contractors: “Nothing seems to be done about safety here until there’s an accident and someone dies,” he says. S&B Fencing provides safety products such as security fencing, safety fans and edge protection systems to construction sites across the region, including the Burj Dubai and Mall of the Emirates. Grundy says safety could be improved if there were more stringent regulations in place. “If Dubai Municipality brought in appropriate regulations I think the situation would improve much faster. There really needs to be a proper definition of what is safe and what isn’t, and at the moment it only seems to be the high profile sites that pay attention to safety and have safety officers on site,” he says. When Dutco Balfour Beatty Group (DBBG) decided to look at ways of improving and enhancing its current health and safety performance, the group reviewed various international construction industry health and safety initiatives to see which could be best adapted to suit its operations in Dubai. The result is that DBBG decided to model its initiative on the BIFSA (Building Industry Federation of South Africa) star grading system. This is a method of assessing and acknowledging compliance with a predetermined set of company-standard operating procedures, and if implemented and maintained, should lead to improved project health and safety performance. “The procedures are fairly extensive and cover all aspects of health and safety we would expect in the UAE,” says Grahame McCaig, general manager (construction division) at DBBG in Dubai. “The individual procedures are allocated value through a point system; the projects are then audited, awarded points and totalled. The points tally relates to a specific star rating, with five stars giving evidence of excellence.” McCaig says there are a number of benefits of using this kind of initiative: “The primary objective in introducing this scheme is to redouble our effort to comply with our responsibility to ensure the welfare of our employees and that of all people affected by our construction activities. “By reducing accidents, we are cutting down on lost time; through the provision of safe working conditions we are maximising efficiency and hence the productivity of our workforce; and by providing well organised and accessible storage areas we are minimising wastage and breakage of materials, all of which improve our competitiveness.” In addition to its health and safety star grading system, DBBG also uses a Mobile Safety Training Unit (MTSU) which travels from project to project to provide employees with on-site training. “The unit is equipped with the latest audio/visual and computer equipment,” says McCaig, “and has its own built-in power generation units, making it suitable to use across our business, even in remote locations.” Site safety should be at the top of a contractor’s list of priorities but it is all too often overlooked in this part of the world. There are countless areas where improvements could be made, and education — combined with reasonably priced safety systems and tighter regulations — could go a long way towards forcing the local industry to raise its standards.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code