Who should be accountable for GCC labour safety?

Rapid Access QHSE & Training Manager speaks about the company's safety policies that keep its employees and clients safe.

Construction is one of the most dangerous jobs in Kuwait, with the sector’s injuries and accidental deaths comprising nearly half of all worker injuries in the country, Kuwait Times reported in March.

Data collected from Kuwait’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour (MSAL) as part of the report stated the most common injuries on construction sites in Kuwait are bone fractures (52.6%), wounds (17.5%), and bruises (14.5%), and around 0.8% of these injuries lead to deaths.

A case study by Dr Hanouf M Al-Humaidi and F Hadipriono Tan – based on MSAL data – revealed Kuwaiti site safety standards fall short of their international counterparts.

The situation isn’t much better in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, where construction workers were most impacted by work-related accidents in the first nine months of 2015. Up to 50,000 construction labourers – 95% of them non-Saudis – met with accidents while on the job, according to Arab News, citing data issued by the Kingdom’s General Organization for Social Insurance.

Clearly, the state of health, safety, and environment (HSE) standards in both of these countries must be improved to ensure labour welfare in their construction sector. The rate of HSE investments has unarguably increased in the GCC on the back of government initiatives and private sector participation. However, it wouldn’t be altogether presumptuous to suggest the region’s construction sector has a long way to go before it can relax its HSE efforts.

Qatar appears to understand this. The host of the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament said in January that it would swap its infamous kafala system for labour contracts within the year. According to Al Sharq, the new law would also help to regulate the entry and exit of expatriates.

However, International Labour Organisation (ILO) officials, following a tour of stadium construction sites this March, asserted that Qatar’s labour law amendments would not bear instant results.

In its report, the ILO mission said it “acknowledges the recent concrete measures taken by the government and other interlocutors” it met in Qatar to improve migrants’ working conditions.
“Certain challenges remain, and the implementation of the measures to overcome them are still underway,” the report added.

Mike Palmer, regional quality, health, safety, and environment (QHSE) and training manager at Rapid Access, offers an equitable view to solve the conundrum.

“Everyone’s got a responsibility towards safety, but human nature and local culture mean people often don’t do what they should be doing unless they’re told to, and are continually monitored,” he tells Construction Week.

“At Rapid Access, we have a standard HSE policy based on legislations as required in this part of the world, and in compliance with international standards. Based on the employers we’re engaged with, we look at how our teams should be trained and with what equipment, ensure they have the right personal protective equipment (PPE), and run a risk assessment based on their roles and the jobs they carry out,” Palmer continues.

“We don’t differentiate too much between depot and onsite HSE standards, because we’re looking to provide the same level of care, training, and knowledge. The focus on HSE should be the same.”

Rapid Access’s Palmer also highlights the impact staff education can have on improving HSE standards within a company: “What helps UAE workers is the media coverage of [legislative] changes – any employee can pick up the newspaper and learn about, for instance, labour law updates.”

Working without appropriate PPE, such as hardhats and safety harnesses, is a ‘sackable’ offense at Rapid Access, Palmer says. However, he adds, the company is mindful of the environment its workers operate in and, as such, enforces PPE at its sites on a “task-specific” basis.

“We enforce PPE – like hardhats and safety glasses – when we’re aware that something could fall or fly off. It’s a hot climate and we know the dangers of dehydration, so we carry out an overall risk assessment of the situation as part of our HSE strategy.

“We want workers to understand the benefits of PPE and adopt its usage, instead of just using it because we put up a sign on the wall,” Palmer concludes.
 
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