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Mohamed Amer, regional director of Operations at ICC MENA. (Image source: ICC MENA)

On 22 May, the International Code Council (ICC) marked the first-ever International Building Safety Day.

The organisation stated that this day is dedicated to promoting and celebrating building safety and the benefits it provides to our communities' health and welfare. It also recognises the significant progress made in ensuring the safety of our built environment, while acknowledging the challenges that remain and planning for the future.

Middle East's commitment to building safety

The Middle East has seen a rapid construction boom in recent years, transforming skylines and infrastructure across the region. Alongside this growth, a focus on building safety has emerged as a critical priority. Many countries have adopted stricter building codes, established dedicated building safety authorities, and invested in fire and structural safety provisions and awareness campaigns.

Dubai has established itself as a frontrunner in building safety with its comprehensive Dubai Building Code (DBC), referencing international standards from the ICC. The DBC is regularly updated to ensure its regulations reflect the latest advancements in construction practices and safety protocols.

Saudi Arabia is also making significant strides in building safety, utilising the I-Codes as the base of their codes. This approach ensures safety while adapting regulations to specific needs, upholding global safety benchmarks.

Oman is poised to join the ranks of regional safety leaders. Partnering with the ICC, Oman is developing a set of six building codes expected to be finalised by early 2026. These codes will be based on the latest international codes (I-Codes), ensuring Oman's building industry adheres to the most up-to-date safety practices. The focus on sustainability and technology integration further strengthens Oman’s commitment to a safe and future-proof construction sector.

These initiatives by Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Oman demonstrate a collective commitment to building safety in the Middle East. Improved regulations and enforcement have led to a decrease in construction-related accidents and building collapses. Advancements in fire safety measures, particularly in high-rise buildings, have also contributed to a safer living and working environment.

Building resilience for the future

The Middle East faces unique challenges in building safety due to extreme temperatures, high levels of sun exposure, and frequent sandstorms. Daily temperature fluctuations can significantly impact the storage and lifespan of building materials, such as adhesives, paints, and sealants. Highly heat-resistant materials are essential to reduce heat gain and loss. Additionally, all pipes—water, gas, sewage—require increased insulation to counter extreme temperature variations, preventing warping or leaks.

To address these challenges, countries in the Middle East are increasingly turning to the International Code Council (ICC) suite of building safety solutions. This family of solutions provides a rigorous and internationally recognised system for evaluating building products and materials, ensuring they meet the highest safety standards and are suitable for the region's specific climate and conditions. By utilising these services, countries can create a safer built environment while promoting innovation and the use of advanced building technologies.

The continued focus on building safety, combined with the adoption of advanced technologies and collaborative efforts, will help the Middle East create a more resilient and secure built environment. Embracing innovation and maintaining rigorous safety standards will ensure that the region's construction boom leads to sustainable and safe development for the future.

"The future of building safety in the Middle East lies in innovation and collaboration," said Mohamed Amer, regional director of Operations at ICC MENA. "Embracing new construction techniques and materials can improve the resilience and sustainability of buildings. Exploring new methods of construction like offsite construction and 3D concrete printing can significantly contribute to reduction in material waste, enhanced construction quality, more controlled and more accessible work environments, and optimised project timelines.”

Building codes need to evolve to incorporate sustainable construction practices, ensuring long-term environmental benefits alongside safety considerations. Continued public awareness campaigns and educational programs can empower individuals to identify and report safety hazards. Additionally, fostering knowledge-sharing between government agencies, construction professionals, and the public is key to achieving a collective focus on safety.

International Building Safety Day is a reminder that our built environment plays a vital role in our lives. By celebrating past achievements, acknowledging present challenges, and embracing innovation and sustainability practices, we can build a safer, more resilient future for the Middle East."

Occupational Safety and Health Forum. (Image source: Department of Municipalities and Transport)

Abu Dhabi's Department of Municipalities and Transport (DMT) organised the Occupational Safety and Health Forum 2024 to promote dialogue and share best practices in managing these aspects across various sectors within the emirate.

It was held as part of the department’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Week, which is held under the theme of "Assuring Occupational Safety and Health at Work in Changing Circumstances". It was organised in conjunction with the World Day for Safety and Health at Work by the International Labour Conference (ILC), which took place from 6-10 May. 

Managing construction and transport sectors

The two-day event also emphasised the department's role and commitment to ensuring community safety by overseeing the projects it manages.

The forum was attended by HE Dr. Salem Al Kaabi, director general of Operations Affairs at the DMT, along with senior representatives, employees, contractors, and stakeholders. Throughout the event, local and international experts addressed critical issues related to workplace safety and health. Engaging discussions and presentations allowed attendees to explore various strategies and best practices for overcoming challenges in this vital area. The forum also provided a platform for knowledge sharing and collaboration, helping participants gain a deeper understanding of current trends and innovations in occupational safety and health management.

Al Kaabi said, "The forum’s success underscores our unwavering dedication to providing a safe work environment for everyone within the emirate of Abu Dhabi. With over 16,000 dedicated employees alone working within the DMT and its affiliates, in addition to its regulatory oversight of the construction and transportation sectors – both pivotal sectors within the emirate – we remain steadfast in our mission to cultivate a culture where safety and wellness flourish, empowering each member to thrive."

SOHAR Port and Freezone has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with RoSPA. (Image source: Sohar Port)

At a notable event at the House of Lords, SOHAR Port and Freezone received RoSPA’s Best New International Entry Award and the RoSPA Gold Sector Award for Health and Safety performance for the period of January 2023 to December 2023. The awards were presented by Lord Bill Jordan, Life President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

RoSPA, a not-for-profit organisation patroned by His Majesty King Charles III, has been dedicated to reducing serious accidental injuries for over 100 years by sharing essential skills and knowledge. The RoSPA Awards programme, now in its 68th year, is the UK’s largest health and safety awards programme. With nearly 2,000 entries annually from over 50 countries, affecting over seven million employees, it highlights a commitment to continuous improvement in health and safety.

Rebecca Hickman, CEO of RoSPA, expressed her pleasure in welcoming SOHAR Port and Freezone to the organisation. Hickman praised SOHAR Port and Freezone’s dedication to safety and their efforts to foster a safety culture among companies within the port and freezone.

In conjunction with this achievement, SOHAR Port and Freezone has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with RoSPA to collaborate on occupational safety training and the exchange of expertise. This partnership aims to enhance safety standards and operational efficiency, positioning SOHAR Port and Freezone as a leader in the field.

Commenting on this achievement, Omar bin Mahmood Al Mahrizi, CEO of SOHAR Freezone and DCEO of SOHAR Port, said, "We are honored to receive the Gold Award for Health and Safety 2023 and the Best New International Entrant Award from RoSPA. This recognition reflects our team's and tenants’ dedication and efforts to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. It strengthens our commitment to improving standards, enhancing safety culture, and developing best practices for all stakeholders. We are proud to be part of the international awards community, setting a standard for safety and occupational health excellence."

adi Facilities Engineering provides full-service compliance engineering and management solutions. (Image source: adi)

adi Facilities Engineering provides some insight into increasing safety at the workplace.

Brian Imrie, managing director of adi Facilities Engineering, a company providing full-service compliance engineering and management solutions, explores the most common compliance pitfalls for businesses.

Record-keeping

“Record-keeping is one of the most common issues, as people often don’t have the necessary documentation, or this is not easily accessible or available”, he says.

“It could be anything from the documents being locked away in a filing cabinet due to someone being on annual leave, to these being misplaced.

“When the HSE carries out an inspection, if you are not able to exhibit any relevant documentation upon request, then by default, you're non-compliant.

"It's about being able to demonstrate through auditable records that you've done what's required, to the relevant standard, and using competent resources in order to be compliant”.

Knowledge is power

“Another essential issue revolves around the competencies of staff, and their awareness of what's required. In some companies, individuals may simply not be aware of what the legal requirements are under the HSAWA.

“But ultimately, if there is an incident, ignorance is not a defence. If you don't know about specific legislations, it doesn't mean that you're not going to get prosecuted should an incident occur.

"It’s also key to make sure that people are aware of what their responsibilities and legal duties of care are.

“These duties can get lost between people, such as if the person in charge leaves and nobody else is assigned their duties, and gaps can appear if there is a need for cross-departmental cooperation in this area which is not adequately managed.

“Education should be a focal point. Not only should there be personnel appointed to ‘duty holder’ roles that deal with relevant legislative elements, but all staff should be made aware of the risks and of what’s required to manage and control them”.
Be proactive

"When it comes to compliance, businesses must be proactive rather than reactive. If you're reacting to something that's gone wrong, it’s already too late.

“The worst mistake that businesses can make is not prioritising health, safety and compliance, which is often due to time constraints or busy workloads.

“This may happen in manufacturing sites, where demanding production schedules translate to reduced downtime to carry out maintenance, for instance. This could lead to equipment that should be checked every year only getting checked once every few.

"But it’s vital that businesses keep up to date about evolving health and safety regulations and industry standards, particularly to avoid compliance becoming an oversight”.

Investing in a compliance gap analysis

“Audits conducted by experienced professionals are instrumental in ensuring that equipment and systems are safe, efficient, and reliable and that any inherent risk is adequately mitigated and controlled.

"This can involve mechanical and electrical tests and inspections, reviewing documentation and assessments, and checking that equipment and systems are fully compliant.

“It’s vital to remember that many tests, periodic inspections and maintenance activities are enforceable by law, so there are requirements for areas such as pressure systems, boiler operation, electrical systems, lifting operations, provision and use of work equipment and much more.

“Investing in a compliance gap analysis provides an essential tool for early identification of where businesses may be non-compliant and empowers them with the knowledge to put the right procedures in place to protect their staff and the business itself”.

Addressing compliance gaps

“It’s not enough to simply know where you are going wrong, however. It’s of paramount importance to know what the fix is to resolve the problem in the right way.

“It is essential to have access to the right expertise and solutions to navigate these challenges effectively. Expert advice and tailored solutions enable organisations to implement targeted measures to address these gaps proactively.

“This not only mitigates risks but also enhances operational efficiency and promotes a culture of safety within the workplace. It is an investment in the health, safety, and success of both employees and the organisation as a whole”.

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