Health and safety still an issue for many construction firms

The causes of the most common accidents in your workplace often go unnoticed


The health and safety sector in the Middle East has seen a big growth in standards over the past ten years, but there’s still work to do, according to provider of e-learning training Safety Media.

According to data collated by the company, 69% of construction companies in Dubai Municipality have a serious lack of understanding of health and safety policy importance, while 2012 research revealed that 74% of Dubai workers believed their health and safety training was out of date.

The hazards

Potential workplace hazards are quite wide-ranging, and at least one of the following categories is likely to be relevant to any company.

1. Safety or mechanical: This includes accidents caused by unsafe working conditions. Between 2010 and 2012, researchers conducted occupational injury surveillance at a GCC-based hospital trauma unit. The research, published in a 2014 edition of the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that 29% of people admitted to the level one trauma unit had sustained a work-related injury.

This was caused by falls from a height (51%), being struck by heavy objects (18%), and motor vehicle crashes (17%). Construction site injuries were by far the most common, though let’s not forget that slips and trips can happen in the office or canteen as well.

2. Environmental: Examples include temperature extremes and noise. This is an important one in the UAE where the Ministry of Labour estimates that half of all employees spend some of the summer out in the open.

Summer in the UAE can see the thermometer exceeds 45°C, putting workers at risk of anything from heat rash or cramps to heatstroke. One study published in 2008 in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology found that during the month of May, UAE construction workers needed to consume an average of 5.44 litres of water in a 12-hour shift in order stay adequately hydrated.

3. Chemical: Injuries occur when a worker is exposed to any solid, liquid or gas chemical, such as carbon monoxide, paints, pesticides and flammables.

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1999 and 2008 nearly half of all chemical incidents leading to injury and 44% of those leading to deaths occurred in a work setting. Breathing problems, dizziness and headaches were the main issues.

4. Biological: Hazards connected to working with people, animals or plants, such as infectious diseases or insect bites, may affect people in healthcare, agriculture and schools. In the UAE, one study in the Gulf Medical Journal interviewed 186 nurses and found that between 2011 and 2012, 29% reported a needle stick injury compared with a global average of 6%.

5. Ergonomic: This includes any type of work or position that creates body strain, including poorly adjusted workstations or chairs, bad posture, repetitive movements and frequent lifting. In 2010, the Kuwait Ministry of Health sent a questionnaire to 750 bank workers. The results were shocking: around 80% suffered at least one muscle or joint problem during the year, with neck (54%), lower back (51%) and shoulders (49%) being the most common.

6. Organisational: Non-physical OHS problems such as mental stress and strain caused by a demanding workload or undesirable behaviour such as bullying or sexual harassment are big issues. In the Willis 2015/2016 Staying@Work Survey, 74% of EMEA employers named stress as the foremost work issue.

About the author: Simon Stirzaker is the regional leader, Health & Benefits at Al Futtaim Willis.

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