New safety rules for construction workers planned

February 07, 2013 - 2:41:25 am

DOHA: As Qatar prepares to launch a string of mega development projects to host the 2022 FIFA event and expects a larger influx of foreign workers, plans are afoot to implement a set of new safety regulations for construction workers.

The State Cabinet yesterday reviewed a report submitted by a technical committee that was formed by the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning in mid-2009 to frame the draft of the above regulations.

The decision to set up the inter-ministerial panel was made by the civic minister early in 2008 after approval from the Cabinet, and in May 2010, a workshop was held with representatives of the construction and contracting industry to discuss the initial draft.

The panel, however, took help from an international consultancy firm and also consulted Qatari Engineers’ Association for their inputs to prepare the draft of the health and safety regulations for the building industry.

“We have seen the draft and given our inputs. I can tell you that the safety requirements and other aspects regarding protecting construction workers incorporated in it are of global standard,” Ahmed Jolo, head of the Qatari Engineers’ Association, said.

Jolo told this newspaper last evening that the purpose of framing new health and safety regulations for construction workers at sites was to make sure that they were of global standard.

A top official from a major construction company said asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, that new safety regulations for construction workers were the need of the hour. “Our major concern, though, is that the rules are implemented effectively. Officials concerned should closely follow-up on the enforcement of the law. The problem in Qatar is that the laws are good but their implementation is weak, the official hinted.

Asked how global standards could be applied per se to Qatar’s construction industry as climatic conditions were so different as compared to Europe, for instance, Jolo said local conditions had been taken into account.

“We have a different work environment due to weather conditions. For instance, during the peak summer months, working hours on construction sites are restricted and no work is permitted between 11.30am and 3pm,” said Jolo. Safety conditions also vary from one building design to another. “Safety rules for workers engaged on an ordinary building site are different from those who are working on a high-rise structure,” he added, citing an instance. The report that the Cabinet reviewed at its weekly meeting yesterday talks of better ways to address the issue of workers’ safety at construction sites and applying them uniformly to the industry. There are an estimated 500,000 construction workers in the country, constituting more than 40 percent of foreign labor force. Tens of thousands of more workers are likely to come in as mega infrastructure projects are launched. 

Exact estimates of the extent of construction site accidents are not available, but industry insiders say the problem is acute. At least one safety official had told this newspaper earlier, talking of the handling of building materials by workers at construction sites, that in the absence of stiff laws, workers handling cement without gloves tended to have skin diseases.

Late last year, a construction worker was critically injured in Madinat Khalifa (south) after part of a ramshackle building next to an open ground where he was doing some excavation work fell on him. He later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.

News reports of workers falling from higher floors of upcoming structures in the country occasionally trickle in, reflecting the state of safety conditions at construction sites. 

According to the construction company official quoted above, the problem of safety is more with smaller construction and contracting companies as the bigger players pay a lot of attention to health and safety of their workers.

He said at least his company stopped providing salt tablets to site workers during sizzling heat as was the norm earlier. “Instead we provide a lot of water and citrus drinks to them.”

The Peninsula