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Tue 7 Feb 2012 07:52 AM

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Construction industry must raise the safety game

Recent scaffold collapses raise the spectre of poor health and safety compliance

Construction industry must raise the safety game
[Image for illustrative purposes only]

Towards the end of January last year, Construction Week reported on the death of three workers and injuries sustained by 11 others when a section of scaffolding collapsed at the Princess Noura bint Abdul Rahman University in Riyadh.

A year later, and Construction Week is again reporting on deaths and injuries resulting from separate scaffolding collapses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In the Dubai incident, which occurred at the Dubailand development, the site engineer and labour supervisor have both been charged with criminal negligence.

Inclement weather has been blamed, with unusually gusty wind conditions that particular weekend. A scaffolding company contacted by Construction Week for comment stated that it had suspended all its operations that weekend as a precautionary measure.

While the weather no doubt did have a significant role to play, what is perhaps far more critical is inculcation of a health and safety culture within the construction industry that regards the lives of its workers as sacrosanct.

Eyewitnesses at the Abu Dhabi incident have reported graphically about the panic that reigned in the aftermath of the accident, and the long wait to remove the injured and dead from the wreckage and rubble. This was an immense tragedy, with incalculable repercussions for many families.

As numerous concerned readers have pointed out on CW Online, regular inspection and maintenance, together with the necessary safety induction for all workers involved in working at height, is essential. Scaffolding is an essential component of any typical construction site, which is why regular upkeep is vital.

CW visits construction sites quite regularly, and one can immediately see if health and safety is held in high regard. Good housekeeping and prevalent signage are always important, as is standard practice like edge protection and safety harnesses.

What is often less tangible is the general atmosphere in the overall working environment.

Workers are an important resource, and they need to feel that they are working in a good environment and being looked after by competent and concerned management.

Following these incidents, the Abu Dhabi Municipality has released construction accident statistics for last year. Health and safety head Abdulaziz Zurub reported that ten workers died in 29 construction accidents on building sites in Abu Dhabi in 2011.

This is the first time that the Abu Dhabi Municipality has collated such figures for a 12-month period. One sincerely hopes that the rest of the UAE follows suit, allowing it to track regional progress and highlight any areas that are cause for concern.

Meanwhile, it is important for the construction industry itself to ensure it follows best practice and standards. An example of this in terms of scaffolding, in particular, according to one health and safety engineer, is application of the Scafftag system. This system controls scaffolding from first build to final dismantling.

It also allows for both procedural and legal compliance, which are critical in the event of any incidents. Importantly, it is user-friendly and weather-resistant, and produces a clear inspection trail.

*Gerhard Hope is the Editor of Construction Week

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Alan 7 years ago

I totally agree with the author that there needs to be a seachang in the HS culture within the UAE. In fairness there are a significant number of companies and developers who do take it seriously with excellent results. The whole ethos of health and safety must start and be driven from the top of any organisation so that duty holders at all levels are held accountable and discharge their respective responsibilities.The systems are in place at goverment level what is needed is a stronger enforcement arm where senior directors and managers are held responsible for their actions.
It is rather a fruitless exercise taken legal action against a foreman or a plant operator in the case of a serious accident.These people have little or no control over resources for health and safety and are under considerable presure to produce results.
Stronger enforcement by the authorities where a corporate body is taken to task combined with significant fines for serious breaches would send a message.