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Sat 22 Apr 2006 04:00 AM

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Changing safety standards from the top of the ladder

Health and safety is gaining an increased profile within the region’s rapidly evolving construction industry. Stephen Storey, infrastructure HSE manager at Parsons Brinckerhoff, introduces the firm’s latest efforts to make sites safer across the GCC.

|~|118int200.gif|~|Storey says that health and safety issues need to be addressed by top level management, in order to strengthen standards right across the industry.|~|What is the Health, Safety and Environment Week?

It is being run by Parsons Brinckerhoff and Aldar Properties, and will run from 29 April to 3 May. Other companies that will be participating include Emirates Safety Group, ETA, and Al Naboodah.

How will the event be structured?

There will be two free days of safety officers’ training in
Abu Dhabi (29-30 April), and then two days in Dubai (2-3 May). There will also be a seminar held at the Chamber of Commerce in Abu Dhabi on 1 May where we are expecting 250 people to listen to international speakers discussing safety.

What sparked off the idea to hold an event of this kind?

We ran the same safety week for the first time last year and were able to train around 3,500 people. We also ran the safety seminar at the event, and had international speakers — one of whom was Alan Ritchie, the head of UCATT — a union for construction workers in the UK. That was a real success, and was the first time that something of that nature was carried out.

And since Aldar is a relatively new company to the market it wants to make an impression, and wants to show that it is fully committed to health and safety in the region.

What are the key issues affecting health and safety in this part of the world?

Some say that there is a lack of health and safety inspectors from the municipalities. Parsons Brinckerhoff is now involved with Abu Dhabi Municipality, and we will be training the new inspectors that are coming through to help enhance health and safety enforcement in Abu Dhabi.

Who is the safety seminar aimed at?

The seminar is pitched at top-level management, not safety people. It is aimed at the people who work at the top level; the people who can make a difference i.e. developers, contractors and senior management.

The CEO of Aldar will be there to support the conference. And we have a lot of Aldar’s top line managers going, as well as the ministers from Abu Dhabi Municipality, and from Al Ain. There is going to be a broad range of people who don’t usually get exposed to or involved with safety responsibilities.

What do you think of the general safety environment here within the construction sector?

The UAE is going through a big change in terms of all the construction that is going on. There is room for improvement, and that improvement needs to come from developers and the big construction companies that will take safety seriously and actually get the message down to the man who is working on the project.

This will take information and training, and means placing safety as a part of the day-to-day running of a company. It has to come from the top —there is no use trying to pitch it at mid-level because it struggles to get done.

It is achievable here — we achieved really good safety statistics on the Palm Jumeirah project, and I know that other developers and contractors are trying to tackle safety in a big way, and have been successful. But it will need companies to not just talk about it, but do it.

Is safety something that is taken seriously here?

There are some very competent and qualified people here from all the over the world, not just safety people but developers and construction people, who are bringing the good practices that they have learnt in their respective countries. And I think that the UAE has begun to take it very seriously.

While they may be a little behind at the moment, a lot of companies here, along with the municipalities, are addressing safety issues and are working to try to achieve a good safety standard that will be recognised throughout the world.

There’s a big change going on, especially with all the investment here, and it’s part of the construction business: you will always be measured on quality and getting the job done on time — but safety is always up there.

If you build the biggest projects in the world and have a bad safety record, then that tarnishes all of the work that has gone on before it.

What is your involvement in Abu Dhabi’s Al Raha Beach development?

Parsons Brinckerhoff is Aldar’s project management team, and part of that is the HSE (health & safety environment). We ensure that we comply with local legislation, local federal laws and good international practice.

We have management systems that we comply with and that are auditable to make sure that they are working. We represent the client to make sure that the contractors and third parties that are part of the project are working to the same standards and there are no grey areas.

Are there any specific safety challenges on this project?

One of the main challenges is the different cultures and different languages. There is a lot of coordination needed on this project — we could have around 30,000 people working on the site at any one time — so communication and coordination are going to be very important to make sure that everyone knows what the safety rules are.

We have 12 expat safety managers based in the UAE, and a percentage of those will be working on this project. But we will also have local safety engineers working with us who we will be training, in the same way that we will be training the municipality’s enforcement officers. We’re working very closely with the government agencies here to bring safety forward and educate people on the importance of it.
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