Championing Safety

How a Buildsafe UAE initiative currently being piloted by six international contractors in the MIddle East is engaging workers to boost health and safety on construction sites

Buildsafe UAE, Elias McGrath, Jaana Quaintance, Impactt

There are numerous challenges in ensuring good health and safety standards on UAE construction sites, particularly communicating best practice to the many different nationalities of the region’s workforce.

However, the latest Worker Champions initiative recently launched by not-for-profit organization Buildsafe UAE breaks down barriers by empowering members of the construction workforce to communicate and monitor standards among their peers, explains Buildsafe UAE assistant project manager Elias McGrath. “It’s about engaging the workers,” adds Impactt Ltd senior project manager — MENA Jaana Quaintance, who conceived the initial idea for Worker Champions.

Six international contractors operating in the Middle East are currently piloting the Worker Champions initiative; ABM, Al Habtoor Leighton, Murray & Roberts, Al Naboodah, Dutco Balfour Beatty and Six Construct. This involves appointing a committee member, selecting one project for the case study carried out from February to July, 2010, and appointing a mentor and one worker from four areas; steel fixing, scaffolding, carpentering and masonry — to form the Worker Champions team. The Worker Champions take on responsibility for disseminating Buildsafe UAE health and safety information among their colleagues, discussing how standards can be improved, regularly feeding operational issues back to management and liaising with Buildsafe to establish how the organisation and industry can work together more effectively.

A number of performance monitors have been developed. These include generating monthly, project-specific safety statistics, a ‘site safety metre’ audit carried out weekly by the Worker Champions; followed by a team meeting with the mentor. Buildsafe measures group performance at monthly intervals and committee members conduct a monthly site visit and progress review. Furthermore, contractors involved are required to collaborate to discuss and compare outcomes.

Positive Response

“The initiative has really taken off. The idea was born out of the fact that we have so many nationalities and cultures in the UAE. The workers we invited to become champions already had some interest in safety and they’re able to communicate well with their fellow workers,” observes Al Habtoor Leighton Group director for QHSE & training Thomas McGuire.

McGuire is the Buildsafe committee member steering Al Habtoor Leighton Groups and Murray & Roberts involvement in the initiative, which is being piloted on the Paris Sorbonne University Campus, Al Reem Island in Abu Dhabi.

“The champions are received well by co-workers because the champions are respected as part of the workforce. In fact, we’ve had a number of labourers coming to us to ask if they can become a champion,” adds McGuire. He says that peer pressure resulting from competition between staff in different areas of the construction site has been a good driver of standards.

Similarly Besix regional HSE manager Lyndon Davies — Buildsafe committee member for Six Construct’s participating project; Abu Dhabi sewage treatment plant in Al Wathba — has witnessed positive results.

“The initiative involves workers identifying hazards, which is real step forward. Many did not realise that we have so many regulations and standards in the UAE and that we must follow those regulations to ensure that we work safely. At first, the other workers were amazed that fellow workers were carrying out safety inspections and now everyone wants to get involved in carrying out the inspections,” he says.

Champions are rewarded for their efforts with a certificate, as well as invitations to events celebrating progress made. Team incentives come in the form of tickets to the cricket, free lunches, cinema tickets, free metro rides and phone credit among other rewards.

Common Practice

Both committee members say they consider the pilot to have already been so successful that they are looking at eventually making it common practice within their organisations. “The idea is to try and launch the Worker Champions initiative across the company sometime towards the end of the year; we just have to ensure that we have the correct resources available,” explains Davies.

McGuire adds that the Workers Champions will remain in the role for as long as they wish to while working for the company; championing safety across various projects they’re involved in.

“We’ll continue the initiative even after the pilot as we’re seeing positive strides. Each of the sites is comparing notes, benchmarking performance and assessing results. When the case study data is available to confirm the success of the initiative, we intend to roll it out across our projects,” reveals McGuire.

In fact, Al Habtoor Leighton Group is already beginning to put in place a training programme for implementing the Worker Champions initiative. “We hope that the scheme will firmly root in the UAE and spread across all organisations and all construction sites,” says McGuire.

“Workers have a right to operate in a safe environment, but they also have the responsibility to ensure a safe environment,” concludes Quaintance.

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