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Workwear in Construction

Published: 10th Nov 2011

The construction industry has experienced fundamental changes over the past couple of years, brought about by several influences such as increasing trade liberalisation, globalisation and internationalism.

These influences are accompanied by direct action to make the construction industry perform more efficiently and safely by owners of international construction projects, and health and safety directors.

Vicky Kenrick from Allen & York, an international health and safety recruitment consultancy, looks at how this growing market in the Middle East not only presents numerous opportunities for industry professionals, but also highlights issues that organisations embarking on construction within the Middle East are confronted with. Particular reference is made to ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations, including the application of efficient and appropriate workwear.

The protection of construction workers is in fact a human right that organisations need to consider. The correct workwear and protective equipment is therefore essential, with extreme consequences facing organisations and employees should the correct workwear not be used.

In a global environment where no uniformly accepted international safety and health standards currently exist, it is extremely difficult for construction practitioners to ensure that they create workplaces that are safe for their workers. Consequently, workers may be expected to interpret the compliance requirements of legislation, implement construction practices and use construction materials with which they are unfamiliar. This includes workwear used by employees working on construction projects in the Middle East.

Appropriate workwear in construction in the Middle East

The correct body protection for each employee working within construction in the Middle East is of great importance. Not only is the right protective workwear required to protect an employee’s own clothes, but also to keep contaminants off the skin, protect from cuts and abrasions and keep the employee at the optimum temperature during extreme weather conditions.

For a number years now the UAE government and others in the Middle East have taken the health and safety of construction site workers seriously. According to recent reports, the Middle East construction industry is projected to deliver projects worth USD $500 billion by 2015. This influx is also expected to lead to an increased investment towards more health, safety and environmental products and services to help ensure safety in the work environment and to drive down operational costs.

“We are seeing an influx of construction projects worldwide, and in the Middle East the key countries are UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Along with this increase comes the growing concern for more health and safety standards that can assure the safety and security of workers on site,” said John Warner, Category Manager of Intumescent Coatings, Jotun Coatings.

Construction projects in the UAE

The UAE have undergone a construction boom over the last five years and projects that had previously suffered during the recession are starting to resume. Strong oil prices over the last five years have played a significant role in boosting the economic growth of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations and even now, oil is still the major?contributor to the economies of these nations. There has been a gradual shift in focus, however, away from reliance on the fossil fuel sector and towards diversification. This shift has given a significant boost to many areas, with one of the most important to have emerged being the construction and property sector industry.

As a key to achieving sustainable growth, the local government started encouraging the non-oil markets to reduce their reliance on oil and gas. Specifically, the construction sector in Dubai is considered one of the key sources of employment, income and growth for Dubai.

The unprecedented growth in the UAE’s construction and property sector had Dubai and Abu Dhabi observing the highest increase in the number of construction projects. Dubai has seen a major boom in the construction and property sector, making it a hub for some of the world’s biggest construction companies.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, currently has a 38% share of the total construction projects in the UAE and is expected to receive contracts worth $86 billion in 2011, according to a newly-released report, GCC Gulf Cooperation Council Powers of Construction 2010, by Deloitte Middle East. Recent construction projects include Jumeirah Gardens City, allocated an approximate $95 billion budget and with an expected capacity of 60,000 residents, with completion aimed for 2024.

Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate in the UAE, covering most of its territory. Discovery of oil and gas transformed this emirate into one of the world’s richest locations. The wealth derived from oil and gas resources has been poured into major investments aimed at spurring and maintaining development in this emirate. Abu Dhabi is observing a reduced dependency on oil wealth due to the large number of economic activities being carried out that contribute to GDP.

The property and construction sector has received the largest chunk of total investments, indicating that this sector is a priority in this emirate. It is estimated that the government will spend about $200 billion on the new infrastructure and development projects in the coming five years, with major projects including Yas Island, a project of approximately $39 billion, developed in an area of?about 25 million square metres, and the Masdar City Project, which is aiming to be a zero carbon city and has been allocated a budget of $22 billion. Key drivers that have lead to the increase in construction in the Middle East include, among others: a growing expatriate population, ample liquidity and a friendly regulatory environment. Moreover, as a regional hub for investments, the UAE attracts international companies to establish offices.

Increased construction equates increased health and safety focus

Traditionally, workwear has been judged against very basic criteria - does it protect the worker and is it functional enough to let them do their job effectively?

While these factors are obviously important, other issues need just as careful consideration, especially comfort, style and wearability. If construction workers aren’t happy with the items of protective clothing that they have been issued - because it’s uncomfortable, feels unsafe or it even slows down their work - then evidence suggests that they are less likely to wear it, which, of course, dramatically increases the probability of accidents and heightens the risk that they will suffer injury.

So if clothes fit properly and don’t impede the wearer’s ability to do their job, they are much less likely to suffer a costly lapse in concentration, or make a potentially lethal mistake.

It is the responsibility of the health and safety manager to ensure all construction workers are wearing the correct workwear.

Of course, many jobs require workwear that provides protection against a combination of risks.

A recent study by the UAE University found that around two-thirds of admittances to hospital involved accidents common to those incurred on building sites and that poor workwear and protection could be associated with this.

In fact, due to the temperature levels, at the end of May, the UAE’s Ministry of Labour announced that it would extend the ban on midday site work in the country for an extra hour to three hours between June 15 and September 15, an initiative followed by Saudi Arabia. The appropriate workwear that protects workers while not making them too hot in the midday sun is in demand.

Confusion over regulations, due to different laws from one emirate to the next, means that the enforcement of appropriate workwear is difficult to monitor.

Speaking to Emirates Business, Peter Barnett Schuster of IOSH said the municipalities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have an impressive set of guidelines and safety codes that are mandatory at all work sites. Seemingly the legislation in the UAE has a number of grey areas and does not go into any details, whereas the codes that are being implemented by the two municipalities are quite descriptive, clear and explanatory.

Schuster said it would be a lot easier for companies to be under one safety body. At the moment, for example in Dubai, there are several regulatory authorities. Legislative requirements vary from project to project - what applies on one project does not for another. In Dubai alone there are several practices being adopted by different agencies.

The health and safety manager is responsible for ensuring all construction workers comply with a variety of regulations. For example, high visibility clothing should adhere to EN 471; workwear to protect against heat and flames should meet EN ISO 11612:2008; while for outside workers, such as builders, cleaners and gardeners, UV Standard 801 - the international test for protection against sunlight - should also be taken into account.

When choosing which types of workwear are needed for a particular job or work environment, it is always advisable to work closely with various suppliers and manufacturers to work?out which types of clothing, and which particular products, will be the most suitable. All products that meet the minimum health and safety requirements will include the European Union’s mark of conformity - CE - so this is always a good initial place to start. Workwear needs to offer the right level of protection against risk while at the same time being suitable for the job in hand.

A recommended approach that health and safety managers could take is rather than to impose a ‘top down’ health and safety regime, work closely with staff instead to reap great rewards - certainly in terms of wearer compliance, which will increase in instances where workers have had a say in terms of issues such as comfort, or PPE suitability for a specific task.

From asking for workers’ input and thoughts early in the planning process, to offering a selection of workwear alternatives and asking for feedback and preferences, it is much more likely that workers will adopt a more positive approach and become more willing wearers of protective clothing.

The role of the health and safety manager in practically encouraging the use of workwear will have to be adaptable, depending on the culture and geographic location of the region in which the construction project takes place.

Enforcement in the Middle East

As one of the biggest concerns for today's construction industry, the matter of health and safety is attracting more attention than ever before.

There is no statutory body in the UAE to oversee health and safety to ensure that the correct workwear is worn. Among its many roles, the Ministry of Labour is the authority charged with enforcing most health and safety laws. In reality, however, it is the police who investigate accidents on construction sites and decide whether anyone should be prosecuted.

Aside from the fact that they have little or no training for investigating such accidents, involving the police introduces a criminal aspect from the outset, often resulting in a defensive rather than a co-operative response.

Abu Dhabi’s code of practice, although of limited legal force, recognises that a preventative approach is likely to be more effective than a punitive one. It focuses on issuing improvement and prohibition notices before a potentially fatal accident occurs.

The UAE has a two-tier system: federal law, which applies to all seven emirates, and local laws, which are confined to the emirate in which they are enacted.

No single piece of federal legislation is dedicated specifically to health and safety within construction.

There are various laws which address aspects of health and safety, albeit in general terms. The labour law, which oversees the rights of employees, includes guidelines on protective equipment, first aid and medical facilities.

For example, Ministerial decision 32 in 1982 outlined provisions in the labour law for the construction industry, but it did not provide technical requirements or standards that could be used to assess whether an entity is acting legally. Similarly, while the penal code deals with acts or omissions causing personal injury or death, the provisions do not relate specifically to health and safety or construction. They might equally apply to someone causing death by dangerous driving.

The new code of practice for construction projects introduces detailed obligations for on-site health and safety, including training, reporting procedures and safety engineers.

So far, however, it has not been enshrined in law. This means not only that it cannot be reliably enforced through the courts, but that those involved in construction in Abu Dhabi have limited knowledge of its existence.

In the absence of a government body like the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, companies in the UAE have formed a partnership to share information on health and safety risks and best practice. In operation since October 2007, Build Safe UAE (BSU), as the partnership is known, now has 88 membership organisations.

Despite the lack of comprehensive health and safety statistics for the Gulf region, there is a clear consensus that safety on construction sites is improving.

According to Build Safe UAE - the only organisation in the region that collects and analyses site safety statistics - there has been a marked improvement in the UAE between 2008 and 2009.

“The UAE is the area of the Middle East that is making bounds forward in terms of health and safety,” says Peter Neville, health and safety manager in the Middle East for consultant Halcrow, which is a member of Build Safe UAE. “It has more legislation in place, which works to protect those both on and off site.”

Author

Victoria Kenrick, marketing consultant

About Allen & York:

Allen & York are international sustainability recruitment specialists who specialise in health and safety recruitment in the Middle East.

In addition, Allen & York play a significant role in global sustainable development and are witnessing a major increase in roles within the sustainability industry.

As well as working with corporations to fulfil their health and safety recruitment requirements, Allen & York are pleased to be at the forefront of growing career trends within technical disciplines, including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability, Renewable Energy, Waste and Water Management, Planning and the Built Environment, Engineering and Energy Services.

Established in 1993, Allen & York provide high quality personnel worldwide, at all levels and across all aspects of the environmental and related sectors. We are the first choice recruitment company for clients recruiting in the UK, Europe, Middle East, Australasia, Asia and worldwide.

Our recruitment teams are highly qualified and have an extensive knowledge of their specialised area and consultants focus on finding the best candidates for our clients and the most exciting career opportunities for job seekers.

As a market leading health and safety recruitment consultancy we are able to provide a huge selection of health and safety jobs across the following areas: Quality, Environmental Health and Safety, Risk and Safety. We provide roles for all levels including Health and Safety Managers, Safety Officers, Safety Engineers, Risk Managers and Advisors and Health and Safety Consultants, working within construction, oil and gas and corporate business. For more information visit: www.allen-york.com

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Published: 10th Nov 2011 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Victoria Kenrick