fmME investigates the importance of safety in the sun
On average, 75 workers die each year while undertaking their daily work activities, reveals a report from The Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), half of which are down to falling from heights and falling objects; preventable, when proper precautions are taken.
As summer looms, companies review policies to enforce strategies that will protect their workers and protect themselves. But it’s not just protection from the sun that is important. Policies must protect everyone from the threat of day-to-day hazards.
Within the facilities management industry, a number of risks are presented daily. Often, the health and safety risks are generic to most companies, says Emrill’s IMS manager, Avtar Singh.
“In our business, employees are exposed to a number of hazards on a day-to-day basis. This can range from anything such as physical hazards including cuts and bruises from sharp edges when cleaning; environmental hazards including trips and falls from wet floors and similar; electrical hazards; chemical hazards; biological hazards and road traffic hazards to name a few.
“Within Emrill, employees are made aware that our first priority is health and safety. Anyone found to be violating or deviating from the set procedures has to face either penalties or termination of his/her contract. Health and safety is paramount at all times,” adds Singh.
While the Middle East often faces backlash for being more lax when it comes to health and safety laws and policies, there is no doubt that individual FM companies are raising their game when it comes to protecting their workforces as well as their reputations. The waste management industry is one which is inevitably exposed to dangers fairly frequently.
Al-Shirawi works to ensure that teams are trained and organised according to the various type of work they are carrying out. This, it feels, cuts down on, and moreover prepares each, for the type of hazards he/she might come across.
“Based on the requirements of their specialised activity, staff are sent on rigorous training sessions that cover sanitation, hygiene, confined space, chemical handling, working at heights using rope access and general cleaning techniques,” says H.S Husain, safety manager, Al Shirawi.
“The requirement of each of the activities determines the PPE (Personal Protective Equipments) supplied.”
General cleaners are provided with a uniform which has a high visibility strip, marked on their pants so that they are visible in even dark spaces and specialist cleaners and façade cleaners are provided with 100% cotton overalls and poly-cotton overalls respectively.
But protecting a workforce requires far more than just equipping it with the right physical gear. Instilling a culture of safety through education is just as essential.
“Policies and procedures at Dulsco are effective because of the practical and theoretical training and retraining that is given to employees at periodic intervals,” explains Prakash Parab, director, waste management, Dulsco. “Workshops are conducted; and topics covered that include all types of operation to understand safe practices and health hazards,” he adds.
As with many companies in the Middle East, the spectrum of different cultures means it can often be difficult to communicate the importance of adhering to health and safety policies.
Emrill’s HSMS is based on the three standards of ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OSHAS 18001; periodically reviewed, for effectiveness and continuous improvement.
“The key challenges are to ensure that the message is cascaded down to the lowest level of our employees and ensure that it is understood by all,” says Singh.
Staff under the direct line of control have team talks delivered via the most senior team members. Following this, and to ensure commitment is visible from upper management, Emrill conducts the Director’s Safety and Sustainability tours.
“IMS teams carry out regular internal audits ensuring that we comply with the local and any other requirements. Inductions and tool box briefings are carried out in a language understood by the operatives,” adds Singh.
Al-Shirawi recognises that cultural barriers can often prove difficult when communicating policies. For this, the company has engaged supervisors of various nationalities for effective staff interaction.
“Majority of the staff understand the requirements of proper safety measures to be undertaken in their respective jobs, but due to work pressure or external reasons, some individuals behave carelessly and they need to be closely monitored,” says Husain.
“Each team is divided into smaller clusters, header by a cluster leader who in turn will report to the supervisor. Apart from that, there are surprise checks, inspections and audits by the QHSE (Quality Health Safety and Environment) team,” he adds. But there’s no time more important to enforce policies than now, say experts.
As summer quickly creeps up on us, it is inevitable that the age-old argument on whether the Middle East is doing enough to enforce the midday working ban will arise.
Last June, temperatures deliriously floated around the 45°C, only to get worse as the summer drew out.
A Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) report indicated that 2010 saw one worker die due to heat exposure and over 3000 treated for heat-related illnesses. The UN agency has followed this up with a report that there are 60,000 deaths a year, worldwide through UV rays.
Turn up the heat
“Conducting awareness campaigns on heat stress with industry experts and the officials from Ministry of Labour is a standard practice to protect workforce from heat stroke. The main focus of this program is to educate operatives in identifying and treating heat illness, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Posters are also displayed in various locations to educate workforce,” says Parab.
These education sessions are essential in enforcing why it is important to adhere to the policies, he adds. When Dulsco introduced balaclavas as a sun protection method, many saw it as a hindrance. The training and workshops helped workers see why the gear was so important.
Khidmah trains its teams on how to better plan their working methodologies during summer and Ramadhan.
“We train the team on signs to look for when a technician could be dehydrated and immediate steps to take in the result of sunstroke and dehydration,” says Sandra Harsant, HSQE manager. “Management and staff will be continually briefed during the summer months about how to protect themselves and [teams] to ensure that the message is firmly embedded and we can implement proactive measures rather than being reactive.”
One aspect it focuses closely on is to educate on the symptoms of dehydration.
“The challenge with training our team on sunstroke and dehydration is the fact that by the time the major symptoms are visible it takes a long time to then rehydrate the body,” says Harsant.
“Following the preventative measures becomes extremely important with this type of risk. Creating an education model that puts this into perspective and in a simple manner to follow is always a challenge. The ADM and HAAD education material around urine colour has been helpful in communicating to the technicians on how they can monitor their own hydration.”
While Al-Shirawi engages the use of uniforms with open pores that allow air-circulation, Emrill insists that all contracts have a designated rest room with controlled temperature and provided with first aid facilities. Critical tasks will be suspended and/or rearranged following the restricted hours.
But while temperatures change, the requirement to fulfil contract obligations doesn’t, which is why initiatives like the midday work ban are vital for safeguarding workers from the extremes of the Gulf summer. Saudia Arabia, last year, jumped on the midday work ban for the first time, a welcome relief for workers.
But while steps have been taken to gauge outdoor temperatures using thermal work limit based systems, one has to ask whether it is enough. Moreover, is enough being done by municipalities and governments to force companies to adopt healthy and safe working strategies and environments?
The difficulty, say our experts, is having eyes in all places.
Are you listening?
Singh says while the municipality in Dubai has taken tremendous steps to enforce safety measures, more needs to be done to hold violators accountable.
“We have identified a few pockets of areas where we need stringent rules/penalties for those who are identified as violators by the H&S inspectors of the governing bodies. [...] In Dubai, many small(er) FM service providers do not have the basic equipment/vehicles for transportation. Step ladders are stacked behind pick up trucks which are exposed and often not secured properly which could result in to catastrophic incidents on the public roads.
Husain agrees, adding that accountability must start at the company itself.
“Industries are diverse and wide spread, each and every activity cannot be monitored by enforcement authorities. Each organisation should take ownership of implementing stringent and effective H&S policies,” he concludes.
fmME’s tips for extreme heat survival
1) Acclimatise yourself
Most workers in the Middle East have experienced extreme heat but local conditions can make all the difference. A worker used to prolonged exposure to sub-tropical heat may suffer when it comes to working in desert conditions.
Experts say you can reduce the risk of this happening by exposing them to working in a hot environment for progressively longer periods.
2) Replace fluids
Provide plenty of cool water or any cool liquid (except caffeinated beverages like Red Bull, Coke, Mountain Dew) to workers and encourage them to drink small amounts frequently. Ample supplies of liquids should be placed close to the work area.
3) Limit physical demands
Why have your men dig a hole when you can get a machine to do it in a fraction of the time? By reducing physical exertion such as excessive lifting, climbing, or use of heavy objects, you limit the risk of physical exhaustion.
Certain jobs need to be done by hand, so make sure you have plenty of relief workers or assign extra workers, to minimise overexertion.
4) Provide recovery areas
Easier said than done on most sites in this industry, but air-conditioned enclosures and rooms and providing intermittent rest periods with water breaks certainly help workers to get through the day.
5) Reschedule jobs
The midday work ban takes the sting out of working through the hottest part of the day for most workers in the GCC region, but often “hot” jobs – jobs in the open, or in areas that are particularly unpleasant – can be rescheduled. Early morning, when the cooler night air sweeps through the region, is perfect. Some Bahraini companies have even switched to night shifts but that too comes with additional risks.
6) Monitor others
Though this concerns everyone, it is particularly important for those who are most at risk of heat stress, such as those wearing semi-permeable or impermeable clothing when the temperature exceeds 40 degrees.