Health and safety standards remain a serious concern in Qatar

by  — 1 June 2015

May’s fatal crane collapse incident, which killed at least one person and injured three others, has once again raised serious concerns about the health and safety standards of the construction sector in Qatar. by Syed Ameen Kader

Sunday morning, May 17, could have been far more deadly had the crane not fallen short by a few metres of a usually busy intersection of F-Ring and Airport Roads. In another incident, a British expatriate in his 40s was killed when a shipping container, reportedly carrying scaffolding materials, came crashing onto his vehicle from a passing truck at Corniche in the following week on May 25. Although these two accidents are not related, they raise questions whether it is merely a coincidence that both involved construction sector activities – one being a mishap while equipment was being set up; another when machinery was being transported. Incidents of such nature do not only threaten the lives of construction workers but also the general public who might fall victim to shoddy health and safety practices adopted by contractors or construction companies. 

Countries such as Qatar, which is undergoing massive construction activities across the state, are more vulnerable to such incidents due to the scale of work. Remember, Doha has a number of ongoing projects – many of which are at busy public areas that see heavy vehicle and pedestrian movements. 

But is it that more construction work means more accidents? Yes, should industry studies be believed. According to a research report titled, Tower Crane Incidents Worldwide, brought out by Britain’s national regulator, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2010, 65 percent of a of total 86 tower crane incidents that occurred during 1989 to 2009 actually took place between 2005 and 2009 – a period that has seen a boom in the construction industry around the world. 

Certainly, the volume of work does not justify having a greater number of construction-related accidents. Industry players involved in the health, safety and environment (HSE) in Qatar told The Edge that it is more to do with the state of HSE practices in Qatar than the scale of projects.  

“It’s [health and safety] is far from world standard, only major international construction and oil and gas companies are at par with the world standards. Mostly you see window dressing here, as slogans such as ‘Safety First’ on buildings, where the sign itself is the best part of the safety commitment,” said a senior HSE expert, who did not want to be named. 

In general, he added, paperwork is done in order to obtain approval, but he alleges, actual construction safety on site is almost non-existent, “as most projects are measured commercially and not by safety or quality”. Industry experts also suggested that major causes of accidents are lack of training, planning and having the right skills available on site and that low levels of management awareness and a lack of proper supervision processes are to be blamed for many of the accidents.

Andy Reid, business development manager at Qatar International Safety Centre (QISC), agreed, “Unfortunately, most companies or contractors only think about how much the training costs. This may not be their company policy. However, procurement departments don’t know technically about the quality of training that they may be buying in to, all they seem to compare is the costs.”

Reid, who has been involved in safety training for the past 25 years, told The Edge even major high-profile projects do not budget for HSE training requirements while tendering for work. 

What led to the crane collapse last month in Doha was still part of an investigation at the time of writing but, historical analysis of 86 tower crane accidents worldwide reveals that 34 percent (29 incidents) were due to erection/dismantling of the crane, whereas 18 percent (15 incidents) happened due to extreme weather conditions, followed by other issues such as foundation, structure, misuse and electrical/control system. 

To take extra precautions while using tower cranes inside the city, Don Boynton, Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) service group manager at GHD, suggested providing pedestrian protection in the form of hoarding like in other countries. “We should establish a professional organisation in Qatar for people who are operating cranes and slinging loads. Also, we should provide alternative pedestrian walkways around a site that does not require people to walk on busy roads,” Boynton concluded.

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