Work should not be so dangerous

The Government should direct stronger regulations and better enforcement at the construction industry, which employs an estimated 40 per cent of the UAE's population.

The death of four workers in the collapse of a high-hanging cradle in Sharjah on Wednesday was avoidable. None of the four men were wearing a safety harness, an oversight that proved deadly. An investigation will determine whether there was negligence on anyone's part or perhaps inadequate safety practices that contributed to this tragedy. Accidents at construction sites are impossible to eliminate altogether, and the number of construction workers in the country (up to 40 per cent of the UAE's total population according to industry estimates) makes such occurrences more common than in many other countries of comparable size. But for their own long-term interests, the UAE's fast-growing industrial and construction sectors require better regulation, and perhaps more importantly, better enforcement of the laws that are already on the books.

BuildSafe UAE, a consortium of 388 construction companies and regulatory bodies, has pushed for better safety standards and publishes regular reports on the issue. Few parties are better suited and have more of a stake in the development of guidelines and technical solutions to improve worker safety, so such leadership needs to continue. Effective regulation and enforcement, however, remains the purview of the Government. Over the past few years, authorities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have confronted the matter head-on, though there is still work to be done. In a report released in April, the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi provided the most extensive research and statistics to date of work-related deaths in the capital. In 2009, it stood at 108, up from 76 in 2008 and 100 in 2007. Decreasing that number will require the deployment of many tools, some of which are already at the government's disposal.

Increasing inspections at worksites and greater punishment for violators may serve as a deterrent to future accidents. Safety standards have been improved in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as they have developed. The rest of the country can learn from this process as they apply their own regulations and seek to enforce them more evenly. Particular attention ought to be paid to smaller contractors, who may be more prone to cut corners than larger companies. Workers themselves require an education in how to put safety first and a mechanism to report if their employers are not doing so.

The UAE has made great strides in providing workers with access to health care and an electronic system to ensure that they are paid in a timely manner. Ensuring their safety on the job is at least as important.