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Wed 31 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Safe hands

Buildsafe Dubai expanded in November to encompass the Emirates as Buildsafe UAE. SFS finds out more from Grahame McCaig, Buildsafe UAE chairman and general manager of Dutco Balfour Beatty.

Buildsafe Dubai expanded in November to encompass the Emirates as Buildsafe UAE. SFS finds out more from Grahame McCaig, Buildsafe UAE chairman and general manager of Dutco Balfour Beatty.

Accidents on-site are an inevitable part of the construction industry. However, understanding risks and dangers can play a huge role in reducing the frequency and severity of incidents.

Sharing information between companies has proved to be a way of enhancing that understanding across a broad spectrum, explains Grahame McCaig, Buildsafe UAE chairman.

Safety is not only ethically the right thing to do, but business-wise, it’s the smart thing to do. - Grahame McCaig.

"We put our health and safety people together in a room and started talking about ways and means of sharing information, and the benefits that could have for the group," says McCaig, explaining the creation of the original Dubai initiative.

"It didn't take us long to realise if we expanded the group of people that was sharing the information, there was the opportunity to get access to more information and share that within a bigger group, and hopefully prevent accidents from occurring."

Formed in January 2008, Buildsafe Dubai started as a knowledge-sharing group of five companies, sharing information on how to maintain health and safety on construction sites.

Since then, it's grown to be organisation of 74 companies sharing information health and safety best practice, and from November it's expanded to become Buildsafe UAE, covering the whole the Emirates.

Manning the helm of the voluntary organisation is chairman Grahame McCaig, general manager of Dutco Balfour Beatty.

Given the organisation's belief that sharing information leads to greater understanding and safety, expanding to cover the whole UAE was an obvious logical next step.

"We've really opened up the door for people across the country to get involved and hopefully we'll be attracting a lot more information from all these people," says McCaig.

The initiative also provides ‘best practice' updates and ready-made training courses written by its member organisations, which are freely shared across the group. "When it comes to health and safety, there's no intellectual property," explains McCaig.

Buildsafe UAE remains a private initiative. "I'm a true believer in self-regulation. Most of the [health and safety] regulatory authorities that are represented throughout the world would really struggle to regulate the market we've got here at the moment," says McCaig, citing the sheer volume of projects, which he estimates to be around 10,000 in the UAE.

"Dubai Municipality has always had the regulations of what should be done on a construction site. That was brought into law in 1991. Those are fairly comprehensive. 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." The problem is that the law is not necessarily enforced, he explains.

According to McCaig, there isn't a ‘safety culture' in the UAE, something which Buildsafe UAE was designed to specifically challenge. "People talk about developing a health and safety culture, and that's very important. Ultimately that's the goal we've got to be striving for," he says.

"You have to back that up with huge amounts of training and development, and explain why it's important. If we do push it from the top, like we are at the moment, you will find in ten years' time it will start to bubble from the bottom and you'll see it coming up through the organisations, and when it comes up through the organisations, you will have a culture. If you've got a culture, it's much better than someone bashing the table. In the interim, you have to push it."Larger developers tend to be good at enforcing health and safety. "All these parastatal government organisations [Nakheel, Limitless, Emaar etc.] are in effect implementing their own HSE standards which are based on the DM standards of 1991. The have the ability to regulate their sites and enforce the rules," says McCaig.

As voluntary organisation, Buildsafe UAE isn't in a position to enforce health and safety legislation. The initiative's approach is one of demonstrating how health and safety actually benefits business.

"Safety is not only ethically the right thing to do, but business-wise, it's the smart thing to do. For too long there's been this link between safety and cost," explains McCaig.

"You ask someone why they don't implement an effective health and safety policy in their business. The answer that always used to come back was that it cost too much money and that they can't afford to spend that and be less competitive."

McCaig sees health and safety as an investment, and is candid about the nature of the construction market.

"We're here - as all business here are - to make money. We're not here to be nice people. We've got responsibilities, yes. But at the end of the day, we're here to make money. If you implement an effective health and safety management system, you will get a return."

Quite simply, adequate health and safety improves worker productivity. "If you erect a scaffold and there's a guy who's doing something seven storeys up in the air, if you provide him with a proper effective working platform, he's got his PPE (personal protection equipment) on, he's hooked onto the scaffold - he's focusing on doing the job at hand. He's not holding on to the scaffold with one hand and trying to do something with the other, worrying about falling off. So his productivity increases, and the quality of the work produced is better."

Another issue, apart from finance, is the lack of disclosure in the region. "There's always been a tendency here for people to not stand up and admit they have a problem," says McCaig.

"As chairman of Buildsafe UAE, I push disclosure. We've got to start standing up and saying ‘we had a problem and we've sorted it. Everyone else out there, this is problem we've had. Make sure you don't get the same problem.'"

As part of this, Buildsafe UAE now distributes accident and fatality statistics voluntarily supplied by its members.

"We're trying to understand where the accidents are happening, so we can tailor-make specific courses or drives or focuses on the areas we're having issues. The UAE doesn't have its own health and safety statistics reporting mechanism. We're just looking at the types of accidents we have and at why these various things happen, and how we can stop them," he explains

Despite the progress made within the last year, McCaig admits that getting every project up to the right standard remains a large challenge.

"If we said everything was fine here, we'd be bluffing ourselves. There's a huge discrepancy in the attitude towards health and safety. But it's improving, and the average benchmark is rising."

He expects the future to see more companies joining the organisation, and plans also exist for Buildsafe UAE to publish quarterly papers on specific health and safety issues. "There's far too much in the world where people take but won't give anything back," he says.

"A lot of our guys feel that we've done well in the industry here, it's giving us a living, it's providing a good life four ourselves and families, so we need to put something back in."

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