• Peter W Hall
  • 9 May 2014

The United Arab Emirates: fast becoming an oasis for the health and safety professional

The world of health and safety is being re-calibrated somewhat. A recent invitation to the biggest health and safety conference to date in the Middle East helped to open my eyes to the advances the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is making in health and safety management.

To say that the International Exhibition for Security and National Resilience held at the magnificent Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre was laying down the gauntlet would be an understatement. 

The exhibition was executed on a grand scale, featuring a simulation of an earthquake and the response to such as disaster. These types of exercises are not only very impressive, but also create a unique opportunity to learn. For the first time in its history, the programme included the first Occupational Safety and Health Middle East (OSHME) event, the patronage of the UAE ministry of interior contributing in no small way, to its success.

The conference aspect of the event featured a keynote address by Judith Hackett, Chair, The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), discussing the globalisation of health and safety. This contribution was testament to the positive working relationships that have been fostered between the UK and the UAE on this subject.

The Emirati system of Government has allowed for the appointment of a Federal Director of Occupational Health and Safety - a post that facilitates the introduction of standards across the region. Such has been the interest in establishing more robust health and safety practices that the IIRM has seen a significant upturn in membership to the Middle East branch, drawn predominantly from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar. An openness to review different practices is apparent given the number of meetings and memorandums of understanding that have been signed between bodies like the IIRSM and our counterparts in the region.

As the region continues to develop, the importance of a health and safety infrastructure that evolves with it has been recognised. After all, developing a culture of work-based health and safety is an important pillar for the attractiveness of a world city as a place to live and work. In this respect, Abu Dhabi is proving to be a regional leader in the adoption of health and safety best practice, with a solid occupational safety and health (OSH) regime for both public and private sectors. In fact, the IIRSM and His Excellency Dr Jaber Eidha Al Jabri, Director General of Abu Dhabi EHS Centre, signed a letter of agreement for the two organisations to work together to further the development of OSH  throughout the region.

There are some sectors of activity where we are determined to ask our colleagues in the UAE to help us introduce new and innovative approaches to risk management practices. Heat stress may not be a pertinent issue for us in the UK, but for the UAE this is a high priority. The use of the latest technologies to provide ice jackets has proved a successful solution. One initiative that did catch my eye however was for the education sector.

A three year plan to raise awareness of health and safety among educators is well underway. The programme includes visits to schools, as well as literature and videos. The scheme is designed to promote safe practice both at schools and for school trips, and is aimed at not only educators, but students and parents as well. We’ve invited the Head of the Education Sector and the Programme Manager to visit our schools. At Bellrock, we think there is a real opportunity to review how a successful programme such as this could be introduced in the facilities that we manage. 

The UAE is a fascinating and diverse place that can help us challenge our status quo. It was a pleasure to connect with other health and safety professionals who are at the forefront of introducing health and safety standards and we look forward to welcoming them to the UK very soon.