Health concerns of UAE construction workers ‘need more attention’

Focus is on safety as opposed to health, according to WSP and Atkins consultants

PHOTO: Health issues associated with construction work tend to show up only years later, experts say. Credit: Shutterstock

While strides have been made in improving safety standards on UAE construction sites, the health of workers is not receiving adequate attention, consultants say.

“The focus still is very much on safety as opposed to health,” says Rob Cooling, Director of Health & Safety Middle East at WSP.

“Particularly in construction, there is a great deal of attention that’s given to… fatal hazards [like] working at height that kills a lot of people every year,” he added.

“But I think the next progression really is to focus more on worker health… and the occupational health hazards: things like noise, heat and humidity, occupational fatigue, stress.”

Health issues associated with construction work tend to show up only years later, something that compounds the problem, Cooling notes.

“These health effects might not be apparent till later years in life of the worker. So sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge to focus on things that might affect workers in the future when they may be back in their own country as opposed to things that are here and now and could cause serious injury today,” he said.

John Milligan, quality, health, safety, environment (QHSE) Director at WS Atkins, echoes Cooling’s comments, stressing the role of pre-employment screenings in ensuring the health of workers as well as preventing the outbreak of contagious diseases.

“What we’ve observed over time is that some of our mature contractors are already providing pre-employment screenings for workers. Most of the countries in the GCC where we work, they have good controls in place, especially with communicable or high-risk diseases like hepatitis and TB and HIV,” he says.

“The focus has got to be on pre-employment screening and… in our engagements with contractors, this is something that we do talk to them about.”

However, he admits that worker health has “received scant attention in the past.”

“We are expecting improvement over the coming years as the market matures, but we’re not seeing enough of it at the moment.”

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