Labourers toil in sandstorm, but company helps with equipment

Construction workers were given masks and safety glasses to help lessen the effects of the storm.

A Pakistani covers his face with a head scarf while crossing the street as a sandstorm rages in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National
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ABU DHABI// The heavy sandstorm that hit parts of the UAE on Thursday affected construction activity and caused safety measures to be increased for workers.

Labourers worked wearing face masks and safety glasses but work was not suspended. The masks were supplied by management as per the UAE’s safety code.

Sufaid Khan, 29, a cleaner from Pakistan, was sweeping the streets in the afternoon.

“Today, was an unusual day to go to work,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what was going on but I knew that there was going to be a big clean up after. The company provided us with masks and sunglasses this morning. I’ve been cleaning during the storm, but the dirt just keeps coming back.

“My shift is 10 hours but I hope that the sandstorm doesn’t return because there’s a lot of dust on the streets that will need to be cleaned.”

Supervisors and managers of construction companies were required to follow guidelines put in place for such conditions.

Rami Sarieddine, 35, from Lebanon, is the logistics foreman of the Khalifa University extension project in Abu Dhabi.

“There was an intense amount of dust and blown sand,” he said. “We gathered the workers in the morning and instructed them on how to handle the conditions. We distributed goggles and face masks. We warned them on any flying objects that might move because of the strong winds. We inspected the site and banned the use of any heavy machinery and equipment.

“We stopped work on the cranes, too, because the wind speed was 45kph. Our crane is 16 metres and the building is five floors. A windspeed of 35kph is the maximum limit but we try to avoid that,” Mr Sarieddine said. “If the windspeed changes by Saturday then we will resume work so we’ll have to wait and see.

“This is the first time that we go through something like this. We’ve had other sand storms in the past but I think this is the worst that we’ve seen in a while.”

Anaagni Parsad Mainaly, 41, from Nepal, said: “We need to protect ourselves from this dust. We all planned to use face coverings when we came to work but were glad that we were provided with masks. I didn’t realise that we had many in storage but I’m glad that there was a plan of action because how else would we have fared with this weather?

“I don’t think we should have worked at all. Dust covers everything and the wind is bothersome, but it looks like it’s getting better throughout the day. I’m glad we don’t have to work tomorrow so by Saturday I hope the weather would go back to normal.”

The Abu Dhabi Environment, Health and Safety Centre (HSE) issued a list of advice to construction companies and members of the public to spread awareness on handling the rough weather conditions.

The HSE asked companies to ensure that all structures, including buildings and containers, were adequately anchored. It also advised that all areas of work be inspected to identify and secure loose items. The adverse weather is expected to last through Saturday.