Setting the stage: Al Naboodah’s industrial theatre and HSE in the UAE

Robert Munn, GM for SHEQ at Al Naboodah Group Enterprises, discusses the wide-ranging and inventive efforts of the Dubai-based group to promote health and safety in the UAE

Robert Munn has been the GM for SHEQ at Al Naboodah Group Enterprises since Feburary 2017, and an HSE manager with the group since 2013.
Robert Munn has been the GM for SHEQ at Al Naboodah Group Enterprises since Feburary 2017, and an HSE manager with the group since 2013.

The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group has long been positioned as an organisation that takes the health and safety and welfare of its workers very seriously — delivering workplace standards that set benchmarks for excellence in the UAE.

For evidence of this, you need look little further that the naming earlier this year of the group’s operational entity, Al Naboodah Group Enterprises (ANGE), as the UAE’s happiest working environment for 2017 by the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratisation.

And indeed, the group enjoyed an annual employee turnover rate of just 16% in 2016 — against an average of 30% for the country.

Such successes are built on efforts that the group has for years been putting into its driving safety, health, environment and quality (SHEQ) and worker welfare improvements across its construction and commercial activities.

At present, these activities currently include the oversight of more than 20 companies and 16,000 employees — of whom 14,000 are employed within the construction segment.

Despite this scope, the group maintains strict control over its safety, and in 2016 reported a lost time injury (LTI) frequency rate of just 0.14 per 100,000 man-hours across its construction businesses — down from 0.15 in 2015, and 0.39 in 2014 — and zero workplace-related fatalities.

Robert Munn, the GM for SHEQ at ANGE, and formerly head of HSE for the construction group, comments: “Last year as a business, we had seven LTIs over 50 million man-hours worked — which is pretty good in any industry.”

Munn went from construction specialist to group generalist in February, but the focus of his role remains much the same: “The biggest percentage of the group is still construction, and so this accounts for the majority of the safety issues, and probably 80% of our risk.”

He adds: “This year, we have set ourselves the target of improving this to 0.12 — though the problem with targets that low is just a couple of incidents will prevent you from hitting them.”

Munn notes that LTIs, as a lagging indicator, are part of a very traditional way of looking at safety, that ultimately overlooks the full scope of a contractor’s health and safety related activities and potential impact on site.

For Munn, a more pertinent focus, beyond such statistics, is the behaviour of the group’s employees in the workplace — and so recently he has been working to develop a more holistic approach to HSE that empowers individuals to address their own occupational risk.

And with respect to this approach, there is no doubt that attitudes taken to the operation of plant, machinery and vehicles on site are key.

After work at height, which Munn notes is “always number one and still the biggest killer in construction”, he highlights plant movement, lifting operations and the issue of pedestrian segregation as three key areas of risk.

In general he notes: “We have a lot of civil works within our portfolio at the moment —    at the Expo 2020 site and on other projects — and that interface between people and plant is always a major issue... alongside peoples’ perceptions of what is safe and what’s not.

“So those are the high-risk areas, and if we have an accident or near miss that falls into one of these categories, it’s what we call a critical incident. On the flipside of that, activities involving plant tend to be well planned, because we know they’re high risk — so what you tend to find is that the majority of your accidents and incidents are actually around very basic things: slips, trips and falls, and people’s behaviour.”

It is important to add that ANGE also has a construction equipment division, National Plant, which provides internal and external equipment rental and maintenance services.

However, tying together all of these elements — situational awareness with respect to plant, machinery and vehicles; the interface between people and plant; and each individual’s perception of risk — is behavioural training.

It is with respect to this that ANGE launched a visual impact training programme earlier this year at a location near its headquarters in Al Awir, Dubai to instil a safety conscious mindset in its 14,000-strong construction workforce.

Industrial theatre

Al Naboodah’s visual impact training — or industrial theatre if you’re from South Africa, as ANGE’s CEO Paul O’Flaherty is — involves the use of 45-minute theatrical performances of health and safety scenarios to highlight the importance of safety on the job site by conveying how certain behaviours can lead to risk, and how, in turn, risk can be avoided.

Munn notes: “We have a permanent team based at the training centre, and they have around 25 different scenarios that they act out. It’s not language specific, so it doesn’t matter where you’re from. You can sit and watch it.”

ANGE’s team of six involved in the visual training programme have been drawn from the ranks of the group’s own experienced foremen and chargehands, and integrate their own personal experience of what happens on site with elements of slapstick humour to provide a relatable performance for the audience.

Munn adds: “They go through the scenarios. The safety managers from the construction group can suggest scenarios they want the team to work through, but they already have scenarios for various construction activities.

The facility at ANGE’s training centre has a range of equipment stage props that have been fabricated by the team. These include a wooden telehandler that is operated by pedal, and comes complete with reversing lights and functioning alarms, as well as a tower crane that can slew, move its hook block and lift up and down.

“They’re very talented people,” Munn comments admiringly. “Not only are they good at what they do in the training, but they make all their own props, because they’re all pretty good carpenters and tradesmen as well.”

Pertinent to real scenarios, the telehandler routine was born out of an incident where an employee was fatally run over by a telehandler.

Recently, ANGE also took its visual impact team on a trip to Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects — which is responsible for the ongoing development of Dubai’s airports — to provide a demonstration of the training in action.

Munn comments: “When we went to show them our visual impact training. It was as part of a five million LTI-free man-hours celebration — so everyone was there: the senior project management, the client, consultants.

The scenario was around plant and vehicles and their movement around people, and on the importance of doing 360° checks prior to getting into vehicles — particularly at this time of year when people tend to use vehicles as shade.

“DAEP thought it was fantastic, and we’ve also taken it to other projects where our clients have expressed interested in it. The Expo 2020 guys want to use our team to do some training.”

Within Al Naboodah itself: “We’re very fortunate at the moment that we’re in that stage where accident-wise, we don’t have so many serious incidents. So we haven’t had cause to have them enact an accident at site yet.”

Beyond its internal policy and training of its own employees, the activities of subcontractors and other third parties on site is an important focus for ANGE as part of its SHEQ efforts.

Third party plant

The main contractor is ultimately culpable for the safety of third parties on site, and ANGE goes through all the usual motions, including personnel and ID checks, training and equipment checks and induction training.

ANGE conducts general and site specific induction training twice a month at its training school for its own staff, while third parties normally receive an hour of induction training as well as a separate QAQC induction.

Nevertheless, he notes, it can be “difficult to control the labour supply — particularly with subcontractors — because the turnover is very high, with people coming and going all the time. It’s why we use induction stickers on helmets, but then again, I’ve been on projects where people just exchange helmets.”

With dozens of projects and 14,000 members of its own construction workforce to worry about, the situation is ultimately not one of how to eliminate risk, but how to manage it.

As a rule, Munn notes: “All of our subcontractors and suppliers are prequalified through a vendor assessment that they complete, and then they have to sign up to our HSE plans.”

The bigger problem, he notes is: “The smaller subcontractors, and how you manage the subcontractor subcontracting out again. There’s always the risk that you have a subcontractor present that you didn’t even know was on site.”

The presence of these unknown third parties can be as fleeting as a truck arriving on site to offload rebar using a truck-mounted crane, but as crane fleet operators and large contractors will both tell you, it is these unscheduled lifts that present some of most risk.

Munn notes: “It’s the hire that turns up unexpected from a supplier — guys delivering material who you know don’t have the right lifting equipment: they’re using uncertified equipment and they haven’t got outrigger pads on — these are the guys that have accidents.”

He hastens to add: “As a main contractor, we have a good working relationship with 99% of our subcontractors: ANGE has a working-together type approach, which is very different to some of the previous firms I’ve worked for, where it is all subcontractor bashing.”

But the difficulties remain in maintaining watertight health and safety across such wide-ranging construction activities, even for an organisation as conscientious as ANGE.

Internally, ANGE’s National Plant division has a range of crawler and tower cranes that it maintains and installs on-site itself, while reaching out to well-known rental companies, including Al Faris and Johnson, when it needs to source additional or specialist equipment.

Its tower cranes are always equipped with anti-clash systems, and lifts conducted according to a plan in the presence of a lifting supervisor. Munn notes: “We don’t really have issues around that type of crane lift. We can have a 500-tonne crane on site lifting with no issues — it’s very well controlled; we have appointed lifting supervisors and the rest of it.

“My bigger issue would be a HIAB turning up unannounced and just doing a small lift off the back. It’s that early morning lift of a bundle of rebar and how that’s controlled, and a lot of that is down the enforcement at site and having the right people to supervise these things.”

Simpler mistakes, including slips, trips and falls when workers are manual handling, also represent a near inescapable area of risk on site. One of ANGE’s accidents last year involved a worker dropping a whaler (one of the supports we use in false work) on their own foot.

Munn comments: “He was carrying it, and it slipped out of his hands and on to his own foot. So that was the accident, and it broke a bone in his foot. We, of course, then went through the whole process of the root cause analysis and looked at the reasons why it happened, but at the end of the day he dropped it on himself.”

Flagging issues

Another way in which ANGE is working to eliminate risk is by removing banksmen and flagmen from high-risk work environments, and instead investing in better visibility devices on equipment and training for the operators.

Munn explains: “What we have tried to do there is take people out of the equation. If you have got heavy plant and equipment moving around in a work area, you don’t want people in there: it’s going to be noisy, dusty, confusing and very easy for someone to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“If a piece of plant hits a piece of plant, it’s normally just some paint transfer and it’s an insurance claim, but if that’s a person, you’re going to be looking at a fatality, particularly with the bigger bits of plant and equipment.”

There is a “regional fascination with flagmen”, says Munn, and where there is a machine, many clients want a flagman. However, under consultation with clients on projects including the Expo 2020, ANGE has been given leave to try a different tack.

Munn explains: “We have used a lot of cameras now on our plant and machinery, particularly for the Expo project, and a lot of it was stuff that they wanted — so reversing aids and 360° vision aids were a requirement.

“Now a lot of the new equipment that is coming out has all of this fitted — dump trucks from Volvo CE, for example: they’ve all got that fitted. It’s standard. When you buy it, it’s on it. But a lot of other equipment requires a retrofit — so we have invested quite heavily in retrofitting additional mirrors and cameras, and we’ve also been looking at proximity alarms.”

One of the main problems with flagmen is that they reduce the accountability of the driver. Munn explains: “You take away the decision from the driver. You allow for an element of: ‘Oh, well, the flagman told me to go’ — and I think our big challenge is making individuals understand that they are responsible and accountable for their own actions.”

Where flagmen are required, he adds: “If we need one, then fine, but then let’s train him, let’s invest that time in him and give him proper equipment. You often drive along the street and see a guy waving a red flag because nobody has actually told him that the red flag means stop. The weakest link in all of it is the individual.”

Indeed, diverse as these issues may seem, they all ultimately come back to the subject of training, and the impact of initiatives such as ANGE’s visual impact training exercises, which demonstrate the importance of safety to the group’s employees in the most direct of ways.

On the whole, however, Munn is more than optimistic about the state of health and safety in the region, commenting: “I’ve seen massive change here. In nine years the place has improved dramatically: there’s a lot more regulation in place, and there’s much better compliance with those regulations by the bigger contractors, and even now moving down through the supply chains.”

He adds that a lot of companies now simply take it upon themselves to follow international best practice, or their own internal, minimum acceptable standards. In the case of ANGE, the group mostly follows UK best practice.

Munn concludes: “There are 40 nationalities within the construction business, from all over the world, and everybody was brought up differently and has a different perception of what risk is and what a hazard is — and that’s part of the challenge: to convince everyone to think the same way. But there is always room for improvement, and that is why we are no looking at behavioural based safety.

“And on that note, the visual impact has been great. It has really gone down well, and on every project that it has been too, the feedback has been fantastic. The response from the sites that the team has gone to, and the people that attend it on a daily basis, is that they love it — and if people enjoy it they take more in.”

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