By Rhys Jones
Labourers must work the same hours in the summer as in the winter months as work continues regardless of the heat
Despite existing laws on occupational safety and health, construction workers in the UAE have to work the same hours in the scorching summer heat as they do in the cooler winter months. Each year, several labourers fall ill or die due to direct exposure to the sweltering summer heat on outdoor sites.
Labour Law 8 issued by the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs in 1980 on occupational safety and health stipulates a number of measures that ensure the safety of workers at the workplace as well as preserving their health.
However, these laws have yet to be officially enforced, meaning it is down to the contractors to ensure their workers take the relevant precautions. Some construction firms offer guidelines regarding the hot conditions but labourers must still work between eight and 12 hours a day during the summer.
“We don’t really change our working hours in the summer and we don’t usually stop work between 11 and 4,” said Kevin Beaver, project manager, Kier Dubai LLC. “However, we do make sure we provide the workers with plenty of water and shade and we concrete late at night,” he added.
Some firms are careful not to overwork their staff and try to make sure workers behave sensibly in order to get the job done. Unfortunately, this is not the case across the board.
“Many contractors in this country abuse health and safety laws and don’t even provide water for their employees during the summer while making them work to extremes. Safety in the UAE definitely needs to be addressed,” said Charles Chloret, general manager, Edible Oil Company, Jebel Ali.
“There’s no change to our working hours [in the summer] as such but we extend breakfast breaks by 15-minutes and lunch breaks by half-an-hour. We try and get workers to work within their limitations and give them guidelines,” added Chloret.
With increasingly tight deadlines being imposed throughout the industry, it is imperative that construction companies maintain a high level of productivity, whatever the weather.
“Our working hours are the same in the summer as they are in the winter, usually between 7 am and 5 pm,” said Mohamed Basha, contracts manager, Dubai Investment Park. “In the summer workers are far more productive in the morning than in the afternoon and we rotate the workers on the roof and the labourers on the ground to make sure we increase productivity,” he added.
The Sharjah Services Co-ordination Committee has previously compiled a health and safety regulations manual for contractors to regulate the working conditions of their activities and ensure the safety of people and property. The manual highlights regulations involving the surroundings and conditions effecting employees, subcontractors and visitors, including social, physical, psychological and biological risks.
Despite such guidelines, summer horror stories are still rife within the construction industry. It is now up to the region’s contractors whether they adhere to these guidelines.