Font Size

- Aa +

Thu 22 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Policy matters

As old economic certainties start to fade away, health and safety is often the first thing to be compromised. FMME finds out how ensuring a business has a good HSE policy is one way to beat the banker.

As old economic certainties start to fade away, health and safety is often the first thing to be compromised. FMME finds out how ensuring a business has a good HSE policy is one way to beat the banker.

At a time when the economy is starting to suffer from a degree of uncertainty, there is a danger that health and safety can be seen as one of the first things to be compromised in an effort to reduce overheads.

A good health and safety policy, however, allows a business to identify the particular hazards involved in its work and the level of risk. As a result, maintaining a comprehensive health and safety policy is one way for a business to protect its bottom line.

If you have a good HSE programme, it reduces the risk of harm to people, loss to process, service interruption and damage to equipment.” - Eldeen Pozniak, Pozniak Associates DMCC.

Experts warn that cutting back on HSE policies can in fact be disastrous for a business fighting to remain competitive. "When times are tough, we have to look at every way we can save money within an organisation. If you have a good HSE programme, it reduces the risk of harm to people, loss to process, service interruption and damage to equipment," says Eldeen Pozniak, managing director of safety consultants Pozniak Associates DMCC.

Her views are echoed by Michael Nates, EHS senior general manager of Nakheel. "Construction sites will never be free from hazards," he said at the Construction Week Conference held in October. "However, a good site plan helps prevent problems, and avoiding incidents means avoiding disruption."

This is because a good health and safety policy isn't just about protecting workers. It's also about defining how your business operates. "If you don't plan, sooner or later something will happen that you just don't see coming. If you have a comprehensive plan in place, you have a structured way of working, something you can monitor, something you can learn from and it'll help you manage your business," says Ben Legg, IMS Director, Al Futtaim Carillion.

Helping hands

Given the complex nature of hazards and risks facing workers in the region, creating a comprehensive HSE policy can be a challenge. However, various organisations operating in the Middle East can provide advice and guidance.

Construction companies operating in Dubai are already well covered by the minimum standards set by Dubai Municipality. "[The municipality standards] are fairly comprehensive," says Grahame McCaig, chairman of construction industry safety collective Buildsafe UAE.

"If everybody implemented those minimum systems, we would have very few incidents and very few issues with health and safety in the construction industry in the UAE." However, the DM standards are a bare minimum, general standard. The most successful HSE policies are ones which take into account the specific risks facing a business.

"Off the shelf policies don't help. A policy must be practical, and the procedure must be credible," says Stephen Munn, regional HSS manager of contractor Al Futtaim Carillion. "If people don't see how a policy works, they won't make it happen."

Creating a specific HSE policy can be done with the help of organisations such as Buildsafe UAE, which acts as a forum for sharing best practice information, or groups such as the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). IOSH operates a chartership scheme which enables individuals to become certified experts in HSE. Another option is to bring in an outside consultant, who can perform an audit of business processes and procedures and help a business draft a specific HSE policy.

Key policy points

Since a health and safety policy helps define how your business operates, it's crucial that it plays an active part in day to day operations.

"If you look around the world at health and safety policies, there's been a tendency over years to have them framed on a wall, rather than have a value adding document that defines how a business is going to operate and how health and safety is embodied in all activities," says Legg.Crucial to a policy is that it should provide a way of tracking performance. "You need to have clearly defined lead indicators; you need to have clearly laid-out reporting, open and honest reporting," says Legg.

"You also need to have good audit programmes in place, because there are a lot of roles and responsibilities within the system and you need to know that you're doing them.

And when things fail, such as damage to people or buildings, or near-misses, you need to have a good investigation programme in place and modify your practices if you need to."

Off the shelf policies don’t help. A policy must be practical, and the procedure must be credible” - Stephen Munn, Al Futtaim Carillion.

Reaping the benefits

HSE policies help companies build reputations and protect their assets. As the region starts to make its mark on the global stage, companies are now looking to improve their reputations worldwide. "Clients generally are becoming more aware that they want to engage responsible contractors, and an organisation that has a well set-out policy would be the first thing to look for," says Legg.

Good policies also tend to mean a company produces better quality work. "Health and safety are joined at the hip," says Grahame McCaig, Buildsafe UAE chairman. "If someone is producing quality work, they've probably got a good health and safety system."

A strong commitment to health and safety can also result in finding new ways of working that are more cost-effective. Pozniak cites the example of use of concrete in construction. "In this region we do a lot of membrane covering on concrete. That's because we don't want the water or corrosion to deteriorate it at a fast rate. That process means that workers will be handling different chemicals," she says.

The process of curing a membrane can take up to two weeks. However, some concrete products do not require a membrane. As a result, workers using the product will not need to handle potentially harmful chemicals, reducing the overall risk on the project. Furthermore, the elimination of the membrane creation process means that construction time can be substantially reduced.

Good health and safety also improves a company's bottom line through protecting equipment. Incidents on sites can not only harm people; if equipment is damaged as a result of an accident, it can cost a substantial amount to replace, and the lag time created by sourcing new equipment will also have a negative economic impact, causing delays on site.

"If we look at the global total loss control approach, you have a safe sustainable business because you're preventing loss of process. If an incident happens that takes out an expensive piece of equipment, that affects your bottom line," says Pozniak.

Nevertheless, simply having a solid policy isn't enough. "If companies think just having a policy will make them better, they'll be sorely mistaken," says Legg. He adds that while a policy helps define a way of working, workers in all levels of the business need to be included to create a ‘safety culture'.

According to experts, a safety culture is now firmly on the map in the Gulf, and good HSE policies are set to become a vital business tool in the region. "There has definitely been an increase of interest, as well as engagement, in HSE issues in the last three years," says Pozniak. "A lot of the organisations are recognising the benefits to a good health and safety policy and programme."

Any business that wants to stay competitive in the current market conditions would do well to start reviewing their policies and procedures - protecting not only the physical health and safety of their staff, but also the economic health and safety of the company as a whole.

For all the latest construction news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.