With a breakneck rate of development in the construction sector in the Gulf in the early 2000s, safety was at times a second thought. That has changed significantly, however, in recent years. Rebecca Kelly, a lawyer with the firm Morgan Lewis, has extensive experience in health, safety, and environment (HSE), and has been practicing in the GCC for more than 12 years. She says that she has seen a “substantial decrease in the number of accidents and fatalities” from the period when she first arrived.
No doubt the smaller number of active projects and companies operating is one factor, but perhaps the biggest impact has been from new regulations prescribing safety requirements for construction sites, which were issued in 2008 in Dubai and in 2009 in Abu Dhabi. While in other high-risk sectors there are specialised regulations that are industry- and UAE-wide, construction is still regulated at an emirate level, she explains.
“There are no reported figures, but I, myself, have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of fatalities on construction sites as a result of [these regulations],” Kelly states.
Many international construction firms that operate in the Gulf tend to rely on an international best practices approach, using their safety guidelines and procedures developed in their home market, such as the UK or Australia, to meet the local requirements in the Gulf. With HSE regulations all having the same purpose – that of protecting workers – best practices from mature markets overseas are likely to be consistent with regulations in the UAE, and are more likely to complement the existing regime, says Kelly, who works with many construction companies to ensure that they comply with regulations, especially in terms of incident protocols and site management. “Most construction companies don’t ask questions about how not to comply. They always ask ‘How do we comply?’, and, at the heart of it, ‘How do we protect our workers?’” she says.
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