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Published: 17th Jun 2014

Falls from heights are the biggest risk that people face when working – unfortunately in some industries like construction this type of work is unavoidable. When an accident happens, consequences such as fatalities and major injuries are likely to occur.

Fatalities are a terrible tragedy, of course, and have a major impact on the families left behind. Major injuries can restrict a life, leading to poor quality of living and not being able to live normal daily routines.

Work at height is work in any working environment is where a person can be injured falling if appropriate measures and procedures are not put into place. Surveys conducted by the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) show that between 2008 and 2010, 50 percent of fatalities were caused by falls from height or falling objects.

Planning a way in which work at height can be carried out safely and effectively is a very difficult task but the high temperatures of the Middle East will put even more risk on those workers.

In the Middle East, the summer temperatures can regularly rise above 85 °F, and sometimes above 100 °F. Many people are exposed to heat when working at height from the high temperatures and direct sunlight, especially, of course, when working outdoors.

The signs and necessary action

When working in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature. This is done through circulating blood to the skin and sweating. If there is a high temperature and high humidity, eventually excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat related illnesses, from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Many symptoms of these conditions can result in headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst and heavy sweating. Heat stroke can cause confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures.

When working at height, outdoor workers in particular will be at a higher risk of becoming ill, leading to not being able to get medical attention or collapsing and falling from the working platforms. Due to this, it is important that procedures are in place to ensure that if a person becomes ill, they can be seen to, or can come away from the working platform so they can be attended to.

As working in the heat is unavoidable, it is important to prepare the workers. This can be carried out through training to ensure that the workers are aware of the risks involved and to also include what they can do to protect themselves, what the signs are if they become ill, how to spot them, and how they should manage their work.

Having supervision in place should also include a check of the workers who are working in the heat to make sure they are not becoming ill during the working day. Allow frequent breaks in a cool place to ensure they are not being constantly exposed to the heat. If working at height indoors, heat exposure could be reduced through using air conditioning, fans and ventilation that make the work environment cooler.

Work practises such as work rotation, work and rest cycles are also ways to reduce exposure to the heat and providing cool water for the workers is another way to help them keep cool. Think about procedures during Ramadan too, as this can be during the summer months when the sun is out for longer periods.

It’s the law

In addition to the practises just outlined, it is currently law in the Middle East to have a break from working between the hours of 12pm and 3pm every summer from June to September – breaking this law will result in heavy penalties.

In 2012/2013, in the UK the fatal injuries to workers could broadly be placed into three categories: falls from height; contact with moving machinery; and being struck by a vehicle (RIDDOR).

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) implemented the Work at Height 2005 Regulations. This law requires employees and self employed contractors to assess the risk from work at height and to ensure the work is organised and planned so it is carried out safely.

These regulations apply to all work at height and are relevant wherever there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. They place duties on employers, and those who control any work at height activity, such as facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height.

The law states that you should try to avoid working at height if you can. If this is not possible then you must prevent or arrest a fall and injury. Also you must instruct and train your workforce in the precautions needed. Method statements are widely used to help manage the work and communicate what is required to all those involved.

Abu Dhabi environment, Health and Safety Management Systems Regulatory Framework (AD EHSMS RF) is an integrated system that takes into account all aspects related to protection of the work environment, and the health and safety system of the workers. It includes certain components that facilitate the development of the policy, programmes and procedures necessary to improve performance in EHS issues.

On June 16, 2009, Decree No (42) of 2009 concerning the environment, health and safety management system in Abu Dhabi, was issued by the Crown Prince Chairman of the Executive Council.

There are many codes of practise (CoP) within this legislation and CoP 11.0 is the code of practise relating to safety in heat and high temperature environments. This includes both weather – working outside in summer months – and site operations – furnaces, ovens and other high temperature operations.

CoP 23.0 is the code of practise relating to working at heights, which covers the requirements relevant to the planning, preparation and conduct of health and safety work practises in connection with working at heights. The Code includes the necessity of making provisions for the following:

• Existing places of work and means of access for working at height

• Fall prevention

• Guardrail system

• Safety nets

• Fall arrest system

• Working platforms

In 2012, a work at height campaign was launched, which aimed for a 5-10 percent reduction in fatal occupational injuries from falls and falling objects. The campaign achieved a 32 percent reduction when compared to the previous 12 months, or 16 fewer worker deaths after implementation of the programme.

To date, more than 800 companies in the UAE have downloaded and used the materials. Together they employ more than 2.5 million workers at around 28,000 worksites. The campaign included procedures and training manuals which outlined all key information to manage a safe worksite, aimed at managers.

Supervisor brochures were also developed which simplified the manuals and procedures. A worker brochure, which was aimed at a low literacy level, multilingual and multicultural workforce to understand the basics of working at height, was also produced. These resources are still available online.

Matthew Jackson on site

As a health and safety professional working as a HSE Manager at group level for a large multifaceted Group like Al Jaber, I have faced many challenges related to working at height in the heat.

Having worked in the GCC region for more than three years, I have experienced a number of summers and the fresh challenges they can bring to employees who are exposed to the extreme temperatures.

As a well known organisation we understand the obligations we have related to employees who work at height in the heat. Firstly, we understand the legal obligation we have to ensure our employees are adequately protected when working at height in the heat. The Ministry of Labour enforces the midday break rule from the hours of 12.30pm to 3pm every summer from June to September, which is a great control measure for ensuring employees are not exposed to the high temperatures during the midday heat. Failure to comply with this law brings heavy penalties.

Secondly, we have the moral obligation. As an organisation, we have established our own values, first and foremost being the protection of our employees. We strictly enforce the midday break rule on all of our establishments/projects to ensure our employees are adequately protected from the elements during the summer months. This, coupled with raising awareness among managers and supervisors, is crucial to ensuring they understand the consequences that can occur from poor planning and not protecting workers from the summer heat.

Safety challenges

We face many challenges every summer relating to working at height in the heat, such as the provision of shade and keeping people hydrated. Each year we see more and more challenges due to the number of projects we have running and our ever increasing workforce size.

One of the biggest challenges we face is perception. We have a workforce of more than 40,000 employees, all from different backgrounds and of varying ages ranging from 18 to 60 years old. Younger workers are particularly vulnerable, as they are anywhere in the world. Their maturity and experience is less than those who have been in the industry far longer and this alone has its own challenges.

It’s difficult to change people’s perceptions, but we work hard by providing training and development for them to understand the basicprinciples of working safely at height in the heat. This training can include regular toolbox talks, one-to-one discussions or formal training delivered on site by our HSE trainers.

Training is a key control measure for raising employee’s awareness, but some of the workforce may lack a basic education, or struggle with the English language. When delivering training we understand that it must be delivered in a language that is most fitting for the workforce to avoid any form of confusion.

During recent years, the holy month of Ramadan has fallen in the summer months. This has come as an added challenge, as most of our workforce fast throughout Ramadan. Throughout the day they are conducting manual work, in particular work at height. This can be extremely dangerous as their bodies are lacking the energy sources they’re used to having, and this can have an effect on their judgment and ability – especially in the high temperatures.

Extra supervision, regular breaks out of the sun and the strict enforcement of the midday break rule allows us to maintain a safe working environment for those employees who are working at height and others who may be working in close proximity to that particular activity.

Thinking ahead

Planning and polices driven by top management led by the CEO within our organisation are essential when exposing workers to working at height in the heat. Poor planning and ineffective polices can lead to a number of failures within any organisation. When failing to plan or have clear policies in place, we leave workers exposed to unnecessary hazards.

This can lead to heat related injuries, lost workdays resulting in a loss of productivity and failing to meet client deadlines, all of which can have a financial impact on the business. Safety leadership from top management down to the employees on the ground is vital to establish a positive health and safety culture, and having the correct controls in place to reduce injury or illness will establish your company as one that values the safety and health of its staff.

Campaigns and awareness

The UAE government has recognised the importance of raising awareness, in particular working in the heat with the implementation of the midday break rule. In Abu Dhabi, since the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Environment, Health and Safety Centre, and the drive from Sector Regulatory Authorities on raising the Emirates safety culture, we have seen a number of guidance measures offered.

The Centre has developed, in consultation with Sector Regulatory Authorities, its own management system, which is being implemented across all sectors within the Emirate. The management system has a wide range of requirements which are mandatory for all entities to comply with. One of the requirements is the management of workers working at height and workers exposed to the summer heat.

There are also a number of campaigns being run throughout the year form the Sector Regulatory Authorities, such as the Abu Dhabi Municipality on the top 16 construction site hazards. Recently the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) has run some excellent campaigns for both working at height and safety in the heat. The materials have been readily available and free of charge. The material is available in a number of different languages suited to the workforce, from leaflets and posters to illustrated videos that can be used as a fantastic training aid and understood by all.

The Al Jaber Group has recently established an intranet which we use internally to communicate these campaigns to our projects and establishments to ensure they are fully aware and utilise the campaigns to their full potential.

HAAD also encourages co-branding, which we have utilised, and the visual effect of this is to send a stronger message to the recipients that ‘the company and the government care about their safety’. We must all commit to playing our own part in implementing the necessary changes, both through internal communications with our own workforce, and through sharing best practises with external contacts and other key influencers in this rapidly growing industry.

I think the UAE has come a long way in recognising the importance of health and safety as a whole and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down in its aim to have safe working environments for all. As health and safety professionals it is our responsibility to protect our workers and we have no excuse when we are given the tools to do the job.

Published: 17th Jun 2014 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Jo Carter and Matthew Jackson