Haste, lack of planning ‘main causes of UAE site accidents’

Contractors should pay attention to health and safety from the earliest stages of a project, says Rob Cooling of the consultancy WSP

PHOTO: A director at the consultancy firm WSP says safety standards have been improving in the UAE and Middle East. Credit: Shutterstock

A tendency in the UAE to finish construction projects quickly, combined with a lack of adequate planning, is the primary cause behind accidents on construction projects, says a health and safety consultant.

“I would say quite often it’s down to a lack of planning,” says Rob Cooling, director of health and safety – Middle East at consultancy firm WSP. “Particularly in the construction industry there’s always a lot of pressure to finish projects quickly and not always sufficient emphasis is given to planning.”

Additionally, Cooling stresses the need for contractors and stakeholders to pay attention to health, safety and environment (HSE) aspects of a project right from the start, as opposed to when construction begins.

“It’s about getting health and safety embedded in the earliest phases of a project. Because when it actually comes around to the construction phase, typically that’s often too late,” Cooling tells

“And that even goes back to making sure that health and safety requirements are made abundantly clear from the onset of a project when it comes to conditions of contract and things like that. If those expectations are clear from the outset then it makes it a lot easier to deliver the projects in a safe and healthy manner.”

Other hazards and potential causes of accidents include lifting operations and excavation work, he points out.

“We have a lot of cranes onsite doing some major lifting operations and the quality and the testing of that equipment is a common issue that we’re having to face. So I think in terms of our fatal hazards it gets the most attention,” he notes. Additionally, excavation work carries the risk of disturbing underground utilities and services, he says.

“When they dig into the ground, there’s a potential for materials and people falling from height. So there’s quite a lot of hazards associated with excavation work so again we have to make sure it’s planned in a structured manner.”

But he notes that he has observed safety standards improving in the UAE and Middle East.

“I feel that there’s been some dramatic improvements in health and safety standards across the region. And a lot of that had is being driven by government,” he says, adding that there is, however, a “great degree” of variation in the enforcement of safety standards among different countries.

“But I think the challenge here with all construction projects remains trying to deliver complex programs of work within very tight timeframes and using of course labour force that quite often [needs] quite a lot of work to be done in terms of developing… health and safety.”


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