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Safe Lifting

The growth of EHS in the Middle East

NEBOSH Chief Executive Teresa Budworth looks at the reasons behind substantial growth in the Middle East EHS market in recent years, and how specific areas of risk such as safe-lifting are becoming better managed and regulated.

The global Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) market has grown at a substantial pace in recent years and is predicted to expand even further over the next eight years.

According to a recent report from Transparency Market Research (TMR), the EHS market - which includes services such as consulting, training, implementation, auditing and certification - is currently valued at more than US$ 3 billion worldwide. TMR has estimated a compound annual growth rate of 12% for the EHS market until 2024, when overall it is expected to exceed US$ 8 billion.

Looking back

Perhaps the answer can be found by looking back to the discovery of oil in the Middle East in the first half of the 20th century and the energy industry’s subsequent need for effective health and safety procedures. Over the following decades, the discovery of oil led to the development and adoption of industry standards in the region. Multinational organisations from the United States and Europe also brought with them their own developing industry standards, which helped to influence the evolution of EHS in the Middle East, leading to the adoption of international standards such as International Labour Organization (ILO conventions). Perhaps the most important development in recent years is the development of local legislative frameworks, standards and systems.

Success fuels EHS

Jassim Darwish, Safety, Security, Health and Environment Manager at Gulf Petrochemical Industries Co. (GPIC) in the Kingdom of Bahrain, agrees that EHS growth has been driven by both the external influence of multinationals and an increasing desire locally to regulate and develop relevant standards. However, he also pinpoints how enthusiasm for EHS in the Middle East is equally fuelled by achieving business success.

He said: “The increase in global marketing opportunities and sale of products across regions and continents has led to a stronger focus on a holistic approach to the safety of company workers. This rising awareness for workplace and employee safety, coupled with increasing efforts towards environmental safety, has led the Middle East to make extensive step changes in its approach. To a large extent, the global push for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Responsible Care Performance Metrics reporting has added to that substantial pace.”

Regulations and public scrutiny

Dr Waddah Ghanem is a highly respected and qualified EHS professional based in Dubai, who is currently Executive Director of EHSSQ and Corporate Affairs at the Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) Group. He believes that a key driver behind the ongoing growth of EHS in the Middle East has been significant movement towards a more regulated landscape as well as greater public scrutiny.

Dr Ghanem told me: “Laws and regulations have been developing in various jurisdictions - free zones and municipalities - but I would say that incidents, mainly in the construction industry and especially in high profile projects such as major infrastructure, power and energy as well as in real estate and high rise buildings, have led to an inevitably more rigorously regulated environment.

“Dubai and the UAE have also become globally recognised and any incidents - especially major fire safety incidents and fatalities - find their way to the global press machine. This has also driven organisations to be more careful, and more scrutiny and pressure has been applied to developers, clients, contractors and subcontractors alike to push the standards towards a more internationally acceptable standard. This is never easy, but we can say that the development in both standards and performance has improved significantly in many areas in recent years.”

Dr Ghanem added: “I think that the law has also become a little more effective in dealing with major incidents. With the public prosecutor and the judges better understanding the failings of organisations to assess, manage and mitigate effectively for risks, companies are finding it more and more difficult to get away with negligence. The involvement of specialist consultants, more effective regulators, required risk assessments and compliance to codes of practice as well as the involvement of court-appointed independent experts has all led to the betterment of standards and performance overall. Now many aspire to higher standards and take pride in their standing in EHS matters.”

So how are success-focussed industries, multinational influencers and local regulators working together in a practical sense in the Middle East?

Lifting is safety critical

According to the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) an increasing number of employers and other stakeholders in the Middle East, such as government bodies, are recognising that lifting is a safety-critical activity that plays a key role in industries including construction and the oil, gas and renewable energy sectors.

“All lifting operations demand properly trained and supervised staff, following rigorous procedures and standards,” said LEEA Chief Executive Geoff Holden. “LEEA now has over 300 members in the Middle East and this figure remains on a steep upward curve. It is also worth pointing out that to secure full membership of the association, these companies must first pass a rigorous technical audit conducted by LEEA officers. They remain subject to further periodic audits as long as they wish to remain members. In itself, membership therefore provides independent evidence of a company’s ability to observe clearly defined standards of safety and professionalism.”

Geoff added: “In terms of legislation, different countries in the Middle East inevitably have their own regulatory frameworks. However, where there is an absence of lifting-specific legislation, we have found that an ever-increasing number of employers are choosing to adopt standards such as the UK’s Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) as best practice. Introduced in the UK in the 1990s, these regulations are widely recognised as a flexible, sensible and effective approach to lifting.”

Multinational EHS influences

Multinational expertise on the ground also continues to influence local EHS practice when it comes to the safe use of cranes, winches, manual hoists, suspended cradles, forklift trucks and other lifting appliances in the Middle East. UK national Kevin Winn is based in Dubai and is Middle East Regional Lifting Manager for leading construction organisation Carillion. In Britain, Kevin has worked on several large infrastructure projects including Heathrow Terminal 5, the Second Severn Crossing and the Sellafield Nuclear Power Station. Working with Carillion in the Middle East, he is part of various “mega-projects” in the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, some of which have involved 25,000 personnel, over 50 tower cranes, more than 30 mobile cranes and numerous telehandlers. Kevin’s key focus is on the training of employees to ensure compliance with standards that would normally apply in the UK.

“We have a very varied workforce from countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal that all have governing bodies with different labour agreements. Their knowledge of safety is one of our main concerns, especially as we work to British Standards such as BS 7121 and UK regulations in the form of LOLER, for example.

“Our focus is therefore on training, but this can be a real challenge due to the various language barriers. We get round this through full-day safety inductions using in-house and external providers along with a daily start-of-work briefing and weekly toolbox talks on the varying themes that we deem the highest risks in day-to-day work. A lot of what we provide is pictorial or photo-based, showing examples of good and bad practice. To avoid any doubt we also use translators who are fluent in the relevant languages.”

Samples of Kevin’s training materials are shown in figures 1, 2 and 3.

Specialist local training and regulators

The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) promotes the safe and effective use of powered access equipment worldwide. Jason Woods, who is IPAF’s representative in the Middle East and India, confirms that there is an increasing demand in the region for specialist local training on issues such as safe-lifting and the use of Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs).

“Training figures are rising sharply and we expect to see 4,000 to 5,000 operators in the region trained each year,” said Jason. “The goal is to minimise accidents and fatalities, focusing mainly on the construction and facilities management sectors.”

One excellent example of how training programmes and other elements of good practice are being reinforced through the work of local regulators can be found in the UAE. The Abu Dhabi Occupational Safety and Health Center (OSHAD) was established in 2010 to ensure the implementation of a comprehensive and integrated management system for occupational safety and health (OSH) and to oversee all OSH issues at Emirate level. OSHAD has developed a wide range of codes of practice, including CoP 34.0 Safe Use of Lifting Equipment and Lifting Accessories, which was revised in July 2016.

OSHAD CoP 34.0 applies to all employers within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and is designed to incorporate requirements set by OSHAD and Sector Regulatory Authorities. It establishes clear requirements and standards, so that risks associated with the use of lifting equipment and lifting accessories are assessed. This allows control measures to be implemented in accordance with the hierarchy of controls. Control measures are also taken to prevent injury, illness and disease to people who might be exposed to risks arising from those activities.

Jason goes on to stress the importance of good quality training: “Training must ensure that all employees involved in using Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs) and lifting accessories are able to recognise and respond to hazards associated with this type of work. All employees who operate powered access equipment must also hold the appropriate licences from the relevant authority within the UAE.”

Best practice

Overall as the regulatory landscape continues to evolve and mature in the Middle East, greater control appears to be being exercised over risks associated with safe lifting. The final link in the chain is of course the implementation of best practice through local practitioners who are highly qualified and experienced in their EHS roles.

Jassim Darwish, SSHE Manager at GPIC, said: “Whenever there are lifting operations involving lifting equipment at GPIC, various aspects are mandatory. Lifts must be carefully planned so that they take place properly and professionally. We will only ever use people who are sufficiently competent and all lifts must be supervised appropriately to ensure that they are carried out in a safe manner.”

Jassim warns that the outsourcing of lifting jobs to contractors must be carefully managed to avoid problems. “At GPIC, we never outsource critical jobs without very close supervision and monitoring.”

Dr Waddah Ghanem added: “At ENOC we always begin with a discussion around whether the lift can be avoided. Of course this is not always possible, so elimination of the potential risk by reducing the actual lift weight is of paramount importance as a first step to consider. If a heavy lift is required, we begin with risk assessment. All team members from all disciplines are involved – EHS, engineering, construction, project and so on. We involve the lift specialists, such as the crane operators, in the risk assessment process. We use certified and experienced personnel only, and these lifts – unlike normal lifts – require a full staged lift plan with full engineering calculations and alternative and emergency procedures that are made available beforehand.

“With regard to the lift process, the plant where the lift will be taking place will be shut down within reason and only critical processes will continue to run.

Although led by the project and lift teams, the workforce and management will be focused on this process in order to support and invoke any emergency response plans straight away if needed. Everything is well documented before, during and after the lift and a critical review is undertaken. This allows the team to reflect on what went well and what could be done better in the future.”


In summary there have been significant improvements in health and safety performance across the region, due in no small part to the adoption of world-class health and safety standards by governments and leading industries.

Jassim Darwish expanded on the recent progress that has been made in HSE in the Middle East: “In the region, especially over the past 10 years, governing bodies and agencies have begun the task of proactively implementing uniform health and safety standards across various industry verticals in order to adhere to world environmental and occupational safety standards. It is remarkable to see the change over the past few years, with both public and private organisations taking up the baton to ensure that a comprehensive assessment is conducted to add value to their stakeholders on a sustainable basis.

“Even though some industries and poor business practices result in fatalities or occupational injuries from time to time, we have come a long way. We can be proud of our significant strides in beginning to focus on the business of safety. No longer do industries in the region see health and safety as merely compliance or regulation-driven, but rather they see that sustainability and financial success is underpinned by the way we continuously demonstrate our focus on the well-being of our employees.”

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