Demand for occupational health and safety training in the Middle East has never been greater. Although historically most of such training took place in the UK, the Gulf States are now increasingly conducting their own training programmes, propelled by the huge expansion of the number of businesses in the oil, gas and construction industries and by increasing regulation.
During the 1980s and 1990s, an accelerated improvement in awareness of health and safety took place, as demonstrated by the inauguration of the Bahraini Ministry of Labour Supreme Safety Committee, which is responsible for health and safety strategy in all industrial sectors, large companies, and the Ministries of Health, Environment, and Civil Defence. The Committee makes recommendations to the government, such as on revising current legislation, and the need for a single government agency, similar to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK, to develop safety strategy and propose and enforce legislation.
Increasing legislation has created a need for more safety professionals in Bahrain. There is now a legal requirement that any organisation employing more than 50 people must have a person responsible for safety, whatever the industry. It is a complex system, and health and safety training is an exciting business to be in, as things are changing so rapidly. Five years ago, for example, there was a much lower awareness of training, and now while some organisations know what they want in terms of training, others are still undecided, so the management of the organisation must be educated before its employees can be trained.
There are a number of factors driving the expansion in the provision of health and safety procedures and therefore the need for training in Bahrain. These include:
1. Legislation. Many Ministerial Orders have been issued by the government establishing safety provisions with the aim of protecting workers (see below). This is an ongoing, improving process that is encouraging compliance.
2. The government is forcing companies to pay for training Bahraini employees, by introducing a levy system taking 3-5 per cent of the salaries of any expatriates employed, to be paid to the Ministry of Labour and used to train Bahrainis in the same organisation. The more expats are employed, the more Bahrainis are trained, so this will ultimately have the effect of reducing the number of expats working in Bahraini organisations.
3. There has been an increase in the number of serious occupational accidents (see below). There are many types of accidents, especially in the construction industry, and both direct and indirect costs ensue from them that may reflect badly on an organisation’s status, apart from the harm, suffering and injury caused to the individuals concerned and their families.
4. Sometimes a customer or an organisation that a company is dealing with may insist on appropriate safety procedures. For example, the Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) asked RRC to run a course on the labelling and packaging of dangerous substances, after a laboratory in France refused to take a chemical sent to them by Bapco because it did not carry the correct labelling according to European standards.
5. Insurance companies play a sizeable role in outlining the competencies and systems that should be implemented to ensure health and safety in the workplace. If an organisation wanted to be insured against fire, for example, their insurance company would insist that personnel were trained to certain standards and that there were systems in place to manage the risk.
6. Companies often form groups to share experiences, success stories and best practice. Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) oil companies including Bahrain hold regular meetings at which they also communicate lessons learned from accidents. Another example is Aluminium Bahrain (Alba), which is a member of the UK-based International Aluminium Institute (IAI), as are most international aluminium companies. Members report their health and safety performance to the Institute, which compiles an annual report that is sent to members to use for benchmarking.
7. The Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001is recognised as the international occupational health and safety standard. While not an ISO standard, it is a step in the right direction that works in a similar way, and is becoming a recognised international standard that organisations want to obtain. Under this standard, an organisation must conduct risk assessments of all its activities, so fuelling a need for training employees so that they know how to conduct risk assessments, how to report accidents and how to keep records.
8. The Ministry of Labour now licenses training bodies to offer approved programmes. This has encouraged an increased demand for training.
However, several issues work counter to these drivers to improvement in occupational health and safety. For example:
1. Although Bahrain’s health and safety regulations are increasingly tough, Bahraini law does not carry the weight of the UK Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 on which it is based, in terms of either extent or enforcement. It is one thing to bring in legislation, but another to get organisations to comply with it.
2. Unless faced with a very serious accident, those who run organisations in Bahrain do not really understand the implications of accidents or how they could be prevented. Although employers try to learn lessons from other companies, they do not always succeed. Production-driven family businesses in particular, such as those in construction, manufacturing and the motor industry, and also hospitals and schools, do not always make safety their first priority.
3. Health and safety inspectors often have little health and safety specialist knowledge. The government is not investing in their development, and there are only between six and eight health and safety inspectors in the whole of Bahrain, to cover a population of 1 million, although this is an improvement from a few years ago, when there were only two for the whole country.
4. The offering of training courses is restricted, despite Ministers saying that health and safety is important. Trainers have to work within government systems and procedures and try their best to encourage health and safety training, but it is a very lengthy process.
5. One of the skills needed is to convince people that they need training in the first place, as often they do not realise it is required by law.
6. The level of bureaucracy surrounding health and safety training is immense, and poses huge difficulties for trainers.
7. The government created the independent Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training (QAAET) in 2008, recognising the importance of ensuring the quality of education and training in Bahrain’s future prosperity. However, the criterion is designed for UK academic training, whereas courses in Bahrain are comparatively short, from half a day to a maximum of two weeks, and would require an army of administrators and training co-ordinators to match academic training.
8. When Ministry approval is sought for a course, there is a maximum amount that students can be charged. This is frustrating, as it prevents trainers bringing in excellent, specialist trainers from the UK, for example, because they cost too much.
9. RRC reported in its December 2008 newsletter that the Bahrain Labour Ministry subcommittee for occupational safety had proposed to the Minister that harsher penalties, including imprisonment, should be imposed on rogue contractors that violate safety regulations, because the existing penalties for infringement are not sufficient to discourage poor safety practice. Serious workplace accidents are not dealt with under criminal law and the present maximum penalty that a contractor can face for safety infringement is BHD 300, or US $795 per worker injured.
Workplace accidents and injuries, facts and figures
The government tends to legislate retrospectively, and it sometimes takes a terrible accident to push them into tackling the problem of poor health and safety standards. The Bahraini Ministry of Labour Supreme Safety Committee is currently working on a new piece of health and safety legislation specifically designed for the construction industry concentrating especially on falls from height, the biggest workplace killer in Bahrain (as well as in the UK).
According to Bahrain Ministry of Labour statistics, 27 workers were killed in construction-related accidents in 2008, 20 in 2007 and 11 in 2006, showing a rising tide of construction fatalities (see Tables 1, 2 and 3). The number of occupational fatalities in all industry types also almost doubled from 19 in 2006 to 36 in 2008 and the number of accidents also continues to rise, or are perhaps better reported, owing to increased awareness. Ministry of Labour statistics show that the total number of occupational accidents more than trebled between 2005 and 2009, from just over 40 to just over 140. These continue to increase, despite the introduction of a ban in 2007 on construction work taking place between 1200 and 1600 hours in July and August, the peak time for fatal accidents induced by heat stress.
Occupational Injuries by type of industry 2006
Just a few of the recent occupational accidents in Bahrain include:
• On 19 February 2010 a crane operator died while trying to escape from his mobile crane as it tipped over at the APM terminal at the Khalifa bin Salman Port. The operator had been loading steel sheets on trucks at the port when the crane toppled over, crushing him to death. The Ministry of Labour is currently investigating the accident, the third workplace fatality since September 2009.
• An Indian carpenter died after being struck on the head by a wooden plank that fell 20 floors on a building site in Juffair, Manama, in January 2009. The workers had not been provided with high visibility clothing or adequate personal protective equipment, and no protection had been put in place to prevent falling materials.
• Three workers were killed and two others injured in a scaffolding collapse during the installation of wall cladding at a construction site in Umm Al Hassam in October 2008. The workers lost their balance after an unsecured plank on the scaffolding moved, so triggering the collapse.
• 58 people died after a crowded passenger ferry capsized in March 2006 off the coast of Bahrain. The boat’s owner was prosecuted.
• 18 migrant workers burned to death in a fire at a labour camp for construction workers where no fire safety measures had been in place in 2005. Since then there have been further fatalities in fires in other labour camps: 16 Indian workers were killed in 2006 when a fire broke out at Gudaibiya labour camp in Manama, while a fire destroyed workers’ accommodation in East Riffa in May 2007. Although several recommendations were made in a report following the 2006 fire, and a law introduced requiring risk assessments for fire to be made, these have yet to be implemented. 434 violations at the camp were uncovered.
Differences between training in the UK and in Bahrain
In Bahrain, the main difference from the UK in terms of tackling health and safety training is the awareness level of the people and their social background and culture. In Bahrain the education system has very little to do with safety – the word ‘safety’ to many Bahrainis means the like of security guards and fire extinguishers. Before training can be started, a lot of introduction and education has to be given before the main topic can be tackled. Bahrainis often do not even know what ‘working at height’ entails, and they can be very surprised when you tell them about simple safety facts, which they often find unbelievable. This is not helped by the fact that in Bahraini society, there is very little information from manufacturers and suppliers about their products, as there is no strong regulation that forces companies to inform consumers.
Another difference between the two countries is the emphasis placed on certification. To the Bahrainis, the piece of paper hanging on the wall carries more weight than anything else; their main concern is to get certificated, especially if the certificate comes from the UK or the USA. However, there are people who really do want to learn, and courses have been developed for them.
Probably more than in the UK, the quality of training organisations in Bahrain varies enormously. Some of them treat health and safety training as an addition to skills such as time management and report writing, rather than concentrating on loss of life. The Ministry does approve these sorts of organisations but it does not follow up on their quality.
There is a difference from health and safety training in the UK in that in the UK, it is more legislation-driven – the requirements of the law must be built into every course. In Bahrain, training is a bit easier, as there are fewer obligations to cover legal requirements. For example, NEBOSH qualifications are offered at both national (designed for UK legislation) and international levels (based on international standards, not on law).
Finally, the types of people given health and safety training in Bahrain, are similar to those in the UK. These are most commonly safety officers from every industry and supervisors from the construction, hotel and manufacturing sectors, who are given the skills they need to carry out their duties as the person in control of their workplaces, including site inductions, how to conduct safety inspections, safety audits and safety meetings, and accident investigation.
Health and safety legislation in Bahrain
The Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Regulations in the Kingdom of Bahrain were first established in 1976 and were broadly based on the UK Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. The legislation consists of 30 Ministerial Orders, the most recent of which were passed in 2006 and 2005, but the majority dating from 1976 or 1977. Since 2000, new Orders have been made covering first aid in the workplace, the medical examination of workers, the protection of workers from fire hazards and reporting procedures for occupational injuries and diseases.
Occupational health and safety training in Bahrain is not an easy job. While the government compels organisations to have a budget for training, the trainers’ job is to maximise the benefit gained from the budget as best they can. The situation is, however, an improving one.
Case study to illustrate the type of training conducted in Bahrain
Bahrain Airport Services
Bahrain Airport Services (BAS), one of Bahrain’s six major employers, handles an average 48,000 flights, over 9 million passengers and 241,000 tons of cargo a year, and provides total quality ground support for all aircraft and passengers using Bahrain International Airport.
The company had identified a need for consultancy in the areas of accident investigation and risk assessment. In July 2009, RRC trained 27 of BAS’ employees at its premises in Bahrain International Airport on accident investigation. This training addressed BAS’s need for a clear understanding of accidents and their causes and taught various investigation procedures and techniques, as well as how to report the findings of investigations and the skills of accident investigation using root cause analysis techniques.
RRC also trained 12 BAS employees on risk assessment, including the reasons for risk assessment, hazard identification, methodology, control strategy and how to complete generic risk assessment forms. The final feedback from all attendees on these courses was very positive and they have requested this training to be repeated to involve more employees and the company’s entire management team.
Plans for Oman
RRC plans to open a fully fledged Health, Safety and Environment Training Academy in the Sultanate of Oman by the end of 2010. Like all GCC countries, Oman has a similar health and safety culture to Bahrain, and there is a big demand for knowledge about specialist health and safety and environmental management.
It is still new as a culture, so it’s a very good market to provide training to, as people are thirsty for knowledge. Oman is a larger market than Bahrain, which is a small island in comparison. Its oil industry is also larger and more established, and there is a huge need for training and consultancy.
Initially, courses will be provided leading to both UK qualifications, such as NEBOSH Diplomas (International and Environmental), Certificates (International, Fire, Construction and Environmental), IOSH (Managing, Directing, Supervising and Working Safely), CIEH (Food Safety, Risk Management, Manual Handling), and non-accredited courses, a range of short customised courses designed to meet the specific needs of businesses.
Skills that will be provided include rigging, scaffolding and plant, such as forklift trucks and cranes. In the longer term, RRC Oman will seek to diversify into other areas of training to meet the specific needs of its clients. It will also provide consultancy services including HSE Management Systems, Site Safety Management, Fire Risk Assessment, Audit, OSAS 18001 development and implementation and Emergency Response Systems.
RRC’s ambition is to have centres in each GCC country all around the Middle East. It is currently negotiating to open branches in Algeria and Libya.
Contact details RRC Middle East Kingdom of Bahrain Tel: +973 175 32027 Fax: +973 175 32028 Email: [email protected] Website: www.rrc.com.bh
RRC Training London
Tel: +44 208 944 3100
Email: [email protected]
Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training (QAAET) www.qaa.edu.bh
The Independent Training Standards Scheme and Register (ITSSAR) www.itssar.org.uk
Bahrain Ministry of Labour www.mol.gov.bh
RRC Training opened its first Middle East training centre, based in Manamar, Bahrain, in 2003, in response to demand in the region. RRC has been providing training for more than 80 years in the UK, and its extension into the Middle East capitalises on both its international expertise and its knowledge of the local market.
RRCME’s Bahrain team has developed rapidly in both size and specialisation in the last seven years and has grown to 17 staff from its original four. It provides in-company tailored health, safety and environmental training and consultancy services in both English and Arabic to a wide range of professionals throughout the Middle East region using local tutors, as well as specialists from the company’s UK head office.
Training for all NEBOSH qualifications is offered, as well as IOSH and CIEH qualifications and tailor made courses according to specific industry needs, including site safety management, managing construction projects and developing policy and procedures for complete projects.
RRCME’s team of professionals is led by RRC’s Bahrain managing director, Hasan Alaradi, a very well-respected IOSH member who trained in the UK in the 1980s and has over 25 years’ safety management experience.
For training companies visit http://www.osedirectory.com/service.php?type=health&service_id=1
Published: 01st May 2010 in Health and Safety Middle East