Health 'n' safety gone mad? UAE builders made to work in the dark
As the summer progresses, outdoor workers face a tremendous task of maintaining their health and safety in the heat. In the capital, municipality inspectors therefore step up their inspections of construction sites, pointing out any concerns to site management.
Gulf News accompanied a team of three inspectors to a work site in Abu Dhabi as they checked provisions for heat safety. The visit to the site, where construction work for a hospital and adjoining clinic is 85 per cent complete, began shortly before midday.
“We visit each work site at least once every two months, and this visit is aimed at inspecting if workers’ occupational health in protected, with a specific focus on precautions from the heat,” explained Mohammad Al Hosani, acting division manager for health, safety and environment (HSE) at the municipality.
At the entrance, which was fenced off, all site visitors and municipal inspectors were asked to sign in. After being advised on safety precautions, safety helmets and vests were also handed out.
“How do you know that someone who enters the site is not still inside,” Al Hosani asked, and was shown the updated visitor logs.
A short walk through shaded walkways, commended by municipal inspectors, led us to the worker rest areas.
“All our workers who have indoor tasks within the completed hospital building structure, such as affixing ceiling fixtures or painting, get an hour’s break between 12pm and 1pm,” said E.D., the project safety manager.
“The midday break stipulates a break between 12.30 and 3pm for all outdoor workers working directly under the sun.”
“How long a break do these outdoor workers get?” Al Hosani asked.
The manager then confirmed that all outdoor workers finished their shift at midday and were sent home.
“We try to ensure that they do not have to work outdoors in the heat, and continue outdoor activities like cement pouring at night,” added G.H., the construction director at the worksite.
Nearly 2,000 workers are present at the site on a daily basis, and rest in one of three enclosed tent-like structures during their breaks.
“The tents are kept deliberately dim, so that workers can rest at one end if they please, or have their lunch. It also helps reduce the heat. Piping also brings in cool air into the tent, which is circulated inside the room by portable fans. Eventually, the internal temperature is maintained between 26 and 28 degrees Celsius,” G.H. said.
Al Hosani was however not satisfied.
“Workers come in from the heat and after exerting much physical effort. To cool themselves, the temperature should be maintained between 20 degrees and 25 degrees Celsius,” he recommended.
Another small concern also worried the municipality official.
“I found a handful of workers resting near the two emergency exits in the tent, effectively blocking them. This must be avoided,” Al Hosani said.
The next part of the inspection focused on internal temperatures within the hospital building structure, which Al Hosani found to be very pleasant. However, a number of water coolers were filled with lukewarm water. In addition, workers were found pouring water from the cooler into a single bottle. Al Hosani said the sharing of the bottle for drinking was unhygienic and unsafe, and recommended that disposable glasses be kept beside the coolers.
Site managers then indicated charts which showed walkways and passages that could be safely used.
“As we complete construction, new areas are opened up and the charts are changed accordingly,” G.H. said.
A visit to the site’s health centre however worried municipal inspectors. The certified site nurse appeared to be on vacation, and a nurse filling in for him said he was still awaiting certification by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi.
“This is a real concern. Until the certification is complete, we cannot authorise that you work here,” Al Hosani told the nurse.
Following a tour of all relevant worker areas, including restrooms and eating areas to check hygiene and sanitation, the municipal inspectors held a short meeting with project executives to air their observations and recommendations.
“This evening, we will forward these recommendations in a written format, along with a timeframe for them to be implemented. A repeat visit will then be conducted to ensure that all concerns have been rectified. If not, a formal warning will be issued, and subsequent violations could result in fines being issued,” Al Hosani told Gulf News.
“Ultimately, we try to create an overall culture of occupational health and safety so that employers themselves become cautious about preserving workers’ health,” he added.
What do you think about the regulations? Is it health and safety gone mad? Tell us what you think below.