Build Safe Dubai pushes change

Chris Doyle of Bovis Lend Lease on a new initiative aimed at improving health and safety standards.

Chris Doyle: stopping work to investigate an accident can cost many thousands of dollars.
Chris Doyle: stopping work to investigate an accident can cost many thousands of dollars.

Chris Doyle, head of environment, health & safety and sustainability, Bovis Lend Lease, explains the Build Safe Dubai initiative.

How did the Build Safe Dubai initiative come about?

We held a global safety conference in Dubai and a colleague from Bovis Lend Lease in New York explained about the Build Safe NYC initiative. They got together a group of like-minded contractors, competitors in the market, to try and champion change, share best practice and set an example about what could be achieved in terms of building safely. Our chairman then met with Al Futtaim Carillion, Al Naboodah Laing O'Rourke, Dutco Balfour Beatty, Multiplex and Murray & Roberts, who all agreed to set up a similar group here.

Are you pushing for tighter health and safety regulations?

We feel that there are actually good regulations here, it's just that it's such a saturated construction market. It's almost unfeasible to actually have the government bodies enforce it. It's the responsibility of all project stakeholders, and workers, to create safe environments on their projects. This is not as simple as it sounds, so what we try and do is talk to the contractors who are facing challenges, to share best practice with them. Also to reinforce to clients that it really is worthwhile to enforce safety. The experience of the biggest contractors in this group is that, at the end of the day, safety saves time and money on a project overall. So we are trying to get that message across.

How does poor safety impact on a project financially?

It varies from project to project. We recently had a study done which looked at fatalities globally and it was estimated that if a worker dies on site, and that site stops for 12 hours, along with the investigations that follow on, it could cost the project at least US $816,877 (AED 3 million) for just one worker. If you have an accident, the amount of executive time that you put into investigations, court cases and compensation - there are so many smaller elements that take time and money. It's hard to compare places, as fatalities in different parts of the world have different costs associated with them, but once you stop work on a project, by the hour it can cost tens to hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the project.

What's the biggest cause of accidents on sites in this region?

It's a whole range of factors. The major physical cause relates to falls of people or materials from height. Also, many workers don't have sufficient awareness of the seriousness of the risks that face them every day.

Many labourers are from backgrounds that aren't connected to construction and are put into construction positions because the supply of really skilled labour just cannot meet the demands here. Dubai standards are actually improving at a faster rate than the West improved their safety standards from, say, the 1950s through to the 1990s, but there is still a perception that, ‘this is how we used to do it and that is still okay'.

Is there a growing awareness of the need for improved safety standards in construction?

Some major clients are looking to invest and develop overseas, and are aware that being associated with good safety standards is important when it comes to getting loans for foreign projects, and also their reputation with foreign governments.

Through the media, there is a change in perception of construction safety; the community is starting to notice what's safe and what's unsafe. There's just a slight lag with some of the contracting groups, mainly through a probable lack of knowledge of how to do it, and also there's a perception that it's going to cost too much money.

Are regional authorities doing enough to enforce standards?

There is a clear focus on health and safety from the government that needs to cascade through the supply chain. I think that regulators have pushed a change and we are waiting to see just exactly what that change holds. We want to be part of this change and this is how we're going to give it a try.

So what are you hoping to achieve with Build Safe Dubai?

My expectation is that we can get companies across the industry involved and create a real awareness of the importance of health and safety. We have a member's charter that states that each signatory organisation believes that every worker has the right to an injury-free work place, and all stakeholders will work together to ensure local safety regulations are followed. Any company that agrees to this philosophy is welcome to join. At the end of the day, I am yet to meet anyone who has said that safety is not important or doesn't matter. As with a lot of things in Dubai, change is driven by the local community. But we will be part of it in order to try to speed change up.

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