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Experts urge improvements to aid workplace safety

The first part (fmME issue 1301, p17) of the worksplace safety, columnist Simon Stirzaker highlighted some of the more fundamental causes for accidents at the workplace. In the second, and final, part of this topic Stirzaker focuses on making improvements

Though it is not mandatory to obtain a WC policy in the UAE, employers are legally entitled to pay for any injuries or sickness arising out of work.
Though it is not mandatory to obtain a WC policy in the UAE, employers are legally entitled to pay for any injuries or sickness arising out of work.

There needs to be an improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) right across the board, without doubt.

But if you need more convincing as to its merits, take a look at the arguments made by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

Not only does OHS keep employees safe, it reduces business costs and disruption, builds a more competent, healthier workforce, maximising productivity, and enhances employees’ commitment to the business.

It also helps demonstrate that a business is socially responsible, enhancing its brand image. In 2013, non-profit US National Safety Council reported that each prevented injury or illness saved an average of $37,000 and each fatality an average of $1,390,000.

Doing more to improve OHS is clearly an excellent business strategy, so how can we hope to do it?

1. Keep abreast of the law: The UAE laws around the safety of workers are frequently updated. For example, in January 2017, it became a requirement for any organisation employing 500 or more staff to introduce a health and safety officer.

The current law stipulates the need for protective gear, clear instructions on prevention of accidents in relevant languages and first aid services, as well as the provision of adequate ventilation, lighting, drinking water, sanitation and a hygienic environment. Making sure a company keeps up-to-date with these regulations is the basis on which any OHS improvements can be made.

2. Get the correct insurance: Though it is not mandatory to obtain a Workmen Compensation (WC) policy in the UAE, employers are legally entitled to pay for any injuries or sickness arising out of work related activities. As such it is in the best interest of the company to obtain a WC policy. It is important to note that even if a WC policy is obtained, an employee can still challenge the pay out in a court of law. Once challenged, the court of law determines the overall compensation to be payable to the employee. Employers are then legally liable to pay for the overall compensation advised by the court. Usually an Employers Liability policy can be issued as an additional rider to the WC policy or as a standalone cover, which then takes care of the excess compensation (over and above the WC policy) granted by the court of law.

Although the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) mandates that all Health insurance policies must cover work related injuries (up to a minimum of AED250,000), this is not mandatory for Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

WC insurance generally provides some medical coverage to staff — however the limits on a WC policy for medical treatment are AED18,000 minimum and AED35,000 maximum and therefore are unlikely to be sufficient in the event of an incident.

Medical insurance policies in Dubai can either cover none of the costs of treating work related injuries, all costs of treatment, or they can cover over and above the WC policy coverage (if there is one). The advantage of an ‘all cost’ medical policy is that there is no need for the administration between the two insurers in the event of a medical claim.

Checking coverage for medical evacuation within a medical insurance policy is also vital. Medical evacuation refers to the ‘arrangement’ of medical evacuation, but will not cover the actual cost of evacuation in certain situations: Workers who are travelling abroad to high risk areas may also require additional, and specialist, travel insurance to cover their evacuation or even repatriation, should the worst arise.

3. Enforce protective gear: Workers using dangerous machinery, working at high elevations, or being exposed to the sun, are required by law to use protective clothing and devices. This use should be enforced. Earlier, I mentioned a 2014 study of a GCC-based hospital, where almost a third of the patients admitted to the trauma unit had a workplace injury. Incredibly, 64% of them were not using protective gear.

4. Educate and inform: Linked to the use of protective devices is the need to raise employees’ health and safety awareness. Educational programmes are cheap to roll out and effective, as illustrated by the Safety in the Heat programme. Implemented by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi, this programme mass-distributed simple information on preventing heat stress, reaching 465 companies and over 800,000 workers.

According to two large companies that provided internal occupational health statistics, it resulted in a 50% to 80% decrease in the incidence of heat stress between 2008 and 2009.

5. Acknowledge diversity: The information provided by the Safety in Heat programme acknowledged the many nationalities within the UAE workforce. Posters, pamphlets and awareness videos were translated into English, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu and Malayalam. This helped improve the support and satisfaction levels with the campaign, no doubt contributing to its success.

It’s particularly important given that a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Occupational Medicine found that of 614 occupational injury hospitalisations, 96% affected non-nationals. Building your company on health and safety

These are just a few ideas. But if you or your company have made great strides to improve OHS, we would love to hear about it in the comments below. This is such an under-discussed topic that the more we share our thoughts, the more we’ll motivate others to make the health and safety improvements UAE workers deserve.

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

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