2022 sees the implementation of new regulations from Sharjah government on occupational health and safety. The new system, officially known as Occupational Safety and Health Sharjah (OSHJ) and its accompanying decree – Executive Council Resolution 15 of 2021, is the first occupational health and safety system ever passed in the Emirate and will include dedicated codes of practice and guidelines for workers and businesses in the region.
Corporate OHS worked with Sharjah Prevention and Safety Authority to developed the regulatory framework system accompanying the new decree. In this interview, Caroline Savage from Corporate OHS shares how her consultants approached and delivered such a large and important piece of HSE consultancy work.
For some background, what are the current laws/standards around OHS in the region?
For Sharjah Emirate, current occupational health and safety law is primarily at a federal level and mainly concerns Labour Law (Federal Decree by Law No. 33 of 2021) together with supplementary Ministerial Decisions.
What region/s will the law govern?
It is a very exciting new law given its powers and jurisdictions and it require adherence to by approximately 60,000 entities operating in Sharjah. Those entities will include: all Government divisions, all semi government entities, all Sharjah freezone companies, companies based in mainland Sharjah, companies not based in Sharjah but working anywhere within it.
Why now? What is happening in the region to spur this new law?
Sharjah Emirate is a long established region to live and work in that’s showing significant further growth with the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade and the free flow of capital. In addition to this, an increasing number of international entities are deciding to make Sharjah their location of choice for business. As well as keeping residents and workers safe, the new decree and accompanying OSHJ system endeavours to provide entities with a guide on their minimum OSH requirements, and provide investors (such as banks/lenders/developers) reassurance that their investments within the Emirate are secure.
Where do you start when building a new regulatory framework?
That’s the million dollar question! As consultants, where on earth do you start with this? I think that our tender won as we were very clear, from the very outset, that we did not want to make a copy paste of any other country or regions regulatory system that we’d seen before. Our Consultants on this project were senior staff with over 70 years of HSE experience between them and who had worked in health and safety all over the world. Experiencing firsthand many different health and safety regulatory systems. Let’s put it this way, they knew on a practical level what didn’t work!
We had a clear vision in mind to achieve the main objective – ensuring that activities in Sharjah are carried out in a manner which ensures the safety and health of all those living, working or visiting the Emirate. But naturally, within this vision were many details that needed to be ironed out and the first few months of the project were spent working very closely with the excellent staff at SPSA (Sharjah Prevention and Safety Authority) brainstorming the many different areas within the system and deciding how they would work.
In addition to the development of the structure of the regulatory framework and all accompanying documentation, Corporate OHS were also responsible for establishing the mechanisms for the enforcement and measurement of the system, developing and delivering training sessions for Government staff on the system and developing all internal processes, forms, checklists, explanatory notes etc. relating to the system for their usage.
What specific H&S needs does the new OHSJ address?
At the beginning of the project a risk profile of Sharjah Emirate was devised and the system was written to specifically encompass those needs. Great care has also been taken to create a system which was clear, easy to understand and user friendly.
How will the OSHJ differ from the USA’s OSHA or UK’s Health and Safety Executive? Does it establish a unique OHS voice for the region?
Most definitely! As mentioned, this is a bespoke system written specifically for Sharjah Emirate – the structure of the OSH system establishes the minimum OSH requirements that entities must comply with in Sharjah and provides guidelines, information and documentation aimed at improving general OSH awareness and compliance.
How will this change the health and safety landscape for professionals already working in the region?
I believe that the OSHJ system will raise the profile of health and safety professionals working in the region and help them gain the recognition and appreciation that they deserve for the hard work that they put into keeping people safe.
How will OSHJ be enforced/encouraged or disseminated?
The SPSA (Sharjah Prevention and Safety Authority) have developed a fantastic awareness campaign which will explain fully the above.
Will the Emirates use interchangeable laws/standards?
UAE Federal law is currently the only HSE law used throughout all Emirates.
Similarly, are the testing houses/notified bodies affected in any way for product testing?
There is currently nothing in the OSHJ system that will affect them.
What will new companies need to know when trying to enter the market?
My blogs that I publish on the Corporate OHS website explains many practicalities of operating in a legally compliant manner as regards HSE law in the UAE region and answer questions just like this.
Again, the SPSA (Sharjah Prevention and Safety Authority) will be releasing a full and comprehensive awareness programme as regards OSHJ. The OSHJ system has been specifically designed not to be a weighty, complex, prescriptive system so I think that new companies entering the market have nothing to fear from it. It can only be to their advantage and provide welcome peace of mind knowing that Sharjah Emirate is working so hard to help safeguard their business activities.
How does this affect large corporate organisations with offices all over the world?
Many international companies, especially those undertaking high risk activities, may well find themselves already operating at a level higher than their classification in the OSHJ system. Other global companies may find that the introduction of the OSHJ system facilities an opportunity to streamline corporate level HSE processes and procedures within their gulf operations.
For all companies, big or small, international or local, the development and implementation of a health and safety management system is
not a mandatory requirement of OSHJ, but organisations may well find that this assists them greatly in the management of both their HSE compliance and HSE in general.
In your opinion, what will these new standards mean for the future of the region and how it is viewed internationally?
I believe that this is a massively positive step forward for Sharjah Emirate. It shows Sharjah to be a modern, progressive Emirate well-aligned and equipped to international business. Furthermore, it raises the profile of Sharjah in the international market and proves that it is an attractive and safe place to work in, live in and visit.