Safety culture involves making sure operatives are well-trained
Abu Dhabi’s Environment, Health and Safety Management System (EHSMS) is leading the way in terms of safety on construction sites, according to Abu Dhabi Municipality’s Abdul Aziz Zurub.
Zurub, EHS division manager of the environment, health and safety division at the Municipality, argued that its standards are the highest of any government body in the Middle East.
For this reason, he believes that the chances of eventually implementing its system across the UAE are high.
“I hope for a unified regulation,” he says.. “And I heard that it could be proposed to be implemented for all of the UAE. It is our hope, because what we achieved in Abu Dhabi is very important to implement to all of the emirates.”
In 2010, the Emirate introduced the regulations for the building and construction sector, and since then has set a zero incidents target for 2015. With less than a year to go, it is still some way off but Zurub tells CW that it is headed in the right direction.
In 2012, the number of construction-related incidents on site reached more than 130. The latest figures for 2013 showed that this fell to 96 – nearly a 30% decrease.
“It is obvious that incidents were reduced because the safety culture increased for contractors and consultants.”
Alan Hughes, director of QHSE at Al Fara’a General Contracting, believes that the municipality sets the criteria, and in Abu Dhabi and the western emirates, this criteria is largely enforced.
With figures published by Ventures Middle East showing that the total value of construction projects is set to increase by 17% in 2014 to $83.4bn in the GCC, safety on sites is important in avoiding delays.
“If any obstacle is posed, like an incident, it will stop the job and compromise the quality of construction. Safety and quality go in parallel – safety precedes quality, because it is clearing the area for the job to be completed,” says Zurub.
“We have high-rise buildings that have been built without any fatalities and without major incidents. And they build their projects within time frame.”
Rebecca Kelly, partner at Clyde & Co, echoes this sentiment, but adds that legislation alone cannot improve safety on sites.
“Confusing and voluminous legislation can be counter-productive as it has the potential to create confusion,” she says. “To improve construction site safety, there needs to be a change in people’s attitudes and behaviour.”
Hughes says that awareness and culture are definitely the main issues affecting safety on construction sites. For that reason, at Abu Dhabi-based contractor Al Fara’a, all project managers are trained and workers are given safety briefings on a daily basis, both internally and externally.
“What we do is train people and engrain (safety) culture into them,” he said.
Hughes added that line managers are responsible for communicating with labourers, whose performance is reviewed every six months to ensure competency.
One of the main reasons behind accidents on construction sites is the communication gap between the management, engineers, project managers and workers.
“We found that the main gap is from the management, where they did not cascade the information to the engineers and to the labourers,” says Zurub.
Zurub clarifies that management includes those responsible on the construction site. If the company’s management transfers its knowledge and experience of safety to the project managers, they can perform their jobs safely on site.
An important factor in the dissemination of knowledge on sites is communication. Umron Ahmed, CEO for global corporate at insurer Zurich Middle East, fears that poor communication could be the number one risk to delivering projects ahead of the Expo 2020.
He warns that a poor understanding of cultural differences can have disastrous implications in a country such as the UAE, where project designers and contractors hail from various countries with different operational procedures and standards.
“For instance, on one construction project in the Middle East for which Zurich was providing cover, our risk engineer was shocked to find Arabic-speaking employees working from designs that were written in Chinese. Obviously, there was huge scope for important messages to be ‘lost in translation,” Ahmed explains.
Still, Kelly notices that over the past few years, she has witnessed a definite decline in the number of fatal accidents on construction sites.
“There are no published figures to verify this. While there will be many contributing factors, the main factors I have seen include an increase in effective occupational health and safety on-site training of personnel, and an overall change in the culture surrounding safety awareness,” she adds.
In Dubai, for example, an HLG safety spokesperson explains that simple measures such as signage in the dominant language at the site can affect safety.
HLG also trains its employees at its own Construction Education and Training Academy (CETA).
“Modern tools and equipment, provided in simulated environments, offers realistic trades training for hands-on experience in steel fixing, carpentry, scaffolding, masonry and safety.
“The purpose-built venue also offers five training rooms to meet professional learning and development needs.”
Zurub believes that while contractors hold a large responsibility towards safety, consultants also play a vital role.
“The consultant is very important because he is the eyes of the client on the project. He has to support his client by stopping the unsafe condition or unsafe act. Unfortunately, some of the consultants are not at that level of the safety on the site.”
The municipality’s role, then, is to support contractors and consultants, by conducting inspections on site, along with workshops and trainings.
“We are not here to fine you at all, we are here to support you in order to stop the unsafe condition or unsafe act,” he says.
“We strongly believe that as a government entity, we have a big role to support the contractors and consultants.
“And we consider them as our strategic partners, so that these two parts, between us and them, they have to become in line in order to protect the lives, and the environment and also to protect our reputation in the market.”