The proper consideration of health and safety is important for any employer within the UAE. There are many reasons to implement a robust health and safety risk management system, including managing moral, financial, and reputational risks; increasing productivity, and attaining further business opportunities.
Organizations must also be aware of the current local and federal HSE laws to ensure compliance. Not understanding health and safety laws may leave a company exposed and liable to civil and/or criminal prosecutions.
The UAE Health and Safety regime
- The health and safety legal regime is mainly derived from the Labour Law (Federal Law No. 8) applicable to all employees working in the UAE, save for a number of specific carve-outs, together with supplementary Ministerial Decisions.
What are employers’ general obligations?
A company’s health and safety obligations include:
- Provision of training to employees to prevent work injuries, occupational diseases, fire risk, dangers associated with the use of machinery, and general hazards or risks associated with their employment.
- Displaying health and safety requirements clearly on-site in Arabic and any other language understandable by the employees.
- Adopting necessary measures to protect employees from occupational hazards, including the provision of safety clothing, other appropriate equipment, and tools for personal protection; setting up safety barriers around hazardous equipment and machinery, and taking necessary precautions regarding storage and disposal of hazardous materials.
- Reporting to the Ministry of Labour any accident or incident at work resulting in an employee’s death, involves fire or explosion, or renders an employee unable to attend work for three consecutive days (Article 24 of Ministerial Decision No. 32/1982).
- Ensuring a specialized first aider is available to provide first aid assistance, and that every first aid kit include specified contents (Article 4 of Ministerial Decision No. 32/182).
- Ensure workplaces are kept clean, ventilated, illuminated; provide rest and eating areas, potable water, and toilet facilities (Article 5 of Ministerial Decision No. 32/1982 and Article 2 of Ministerial Decision No. 27/1/1981).
- High-risk companies with more than 150 employees are required to employ a full-time safety officer, assigned to supervise the implementation of UAE health and safety law (Article 26 of Ministerial Decision No. 32/1982).
What practical steps can employers take?
Initially, a company would assess the health and safety provisions that they currently have in place. If the company is registered in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, then the Government OSHAD entity (Abu Dhabi Occupational Safety and Health) will require that a company is classified into three categories, namely High, Medium, or Low Risk.
The company’s in-house HSE Manager, or an HSE consultancy like Corporate OHS, would:
- Assess the company’s work activities and areas of particularly high risk, and develop a Legal Risk Register showing where compliance to health and safety law must be applied.
- Work with employees to undertake risk assessments; identifying all significant hazards, evaluating these hazards, and recommending adequate control measures.
- Develop safe systems of work and standard operating procedures to control specific work activities.
- Develop a reporting mechanism to address OSH issues raised by employees.
- Develop emergency procedures, including evacuation plans. Ensuring that if an emergency did occur, then there was a response plan for workers to follow.
- Training should be given to both workers and management on the significant hazards/areas of concern identified in the risk assessment, and the control measures required to conduct work activities safely and without risk to employees’ health and safety.
The above measures are the basis for the development of a health and safety management system. This should also be developed and implemented in a manner that complies with both local and federal laws, such as ISO45001, OSHAD SF, or a combination of both. The management system would include Safe Operating Procedures – not only to help safeguard workers but also to provide a demonstrable framework that allows the company to prove its commitment to complying with health and safety law.
What are the consequences of failing to comply?
Failure to comply with the statutory HSE requirements may result in:
- Criminal sanctions, the police will conduct a formal investigation into an incident and retain the passports of any employees they consider responsible for the incident. If referred to the public prosecutor and then criminal court, a minimum penalty of at least one year’s imprisonment and a fine may be imposed.
- Civil compensatory damages, subject to the nature and severity of the incident.
- Contractual liability.
- Liability to pay blood money (Diya) where there is a fatality at work, in addition to statutory compensation – under UAE law equivalent to 24 months’ basic salary at the time of death (Article 149 of UAE Labour Law), and/or civil compensatory damages.
- Negative publicity which can affect brand recognition, the attainment of new business and future revenue, and the company’s ability to retain and recruit staff. and
- Inspectors from the Ministry of Labour can enter and inspect workplaces at any time without prior notice and impose any measures aimed at averting danger or risk to employees. They may also levy fines or rectification notices on companies for breaches of these requirements, regardless of whether a workplace accident has actually occurred or not.
The sanctions and punishments for flouting HSE laws have damaging consequences, and they have led to the collapse of many companies in the past. To protect your business and safeguard the health and safety of all employees, it is essential to put in place a framework that ensures full compliance with local and federal HSE laws.
Developing this framework requires the expertise of HSE professionals. If your company doesn’t have an in-house safety officer, you may employ the services of a consultancy like Corporate OHS. We help companies solve the complexities of health and safety legislation in the most practical, beneficial, and cost-effective way. For more information, please visit our website or send any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.