Health Risks of the Work Place in the UAE.
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Health Risks of the Work Place in the UAE.

What are some of the biggest health risks of working in the UAE? Read on.

Rising rapidly from the desert sands, the United Arab Emirates is a modern miracle of technological ingenuity, unmatched desires and sheer will. Recent building achievements in the region have raised the standard worldwide for what was previously thought to be possible, largely at the hands of a vast team of super-skilled engineers, architects, designers and a veritable army of hard-working laborers and tradesmen.

In the face of all of this unimaginable accomplishment, work-related injuries in the UAE affect approximately 1.5% of the workforce annually, of which about 98% are men. The majority of these injuries can be avoided or eliminated through planning and following safe work practices. Injuries range from slowly developing conditions such as repetitive motion injuries up to critical accidents that leave workers paralyzed, with some even resulting in death.

By far the biggest contributor to work-related injuries is a negligent attitude toward safe work practices, or a lack of education toward them. This can be a result of language barriers that are common on construction sites, since the vast majority of the laborers and management are imported from overseas, often times from several different countries.

While most expat workers from Western countries tend to be fairly safety conscious on the whole, this attitude can be affected by rushing to meet deadlines, causing time and labor intensive safety measures to ignored by everyone. This is a critical mistake, and sadly it is usually under these circumstances that someone gets hurt or killed.

On the other end of the labor pool, many skilled craftsmen and technicians come to the UAE from poor, developing nations with an excellent knowledge of their trade, but very little understanding of how to minimize health and safety risks and this also sets the scene for a dangerous work environment for both themselves and others.

Serious injuries and death, particularly on construction sites, are often due to poor implementation of job site safety measures and a lack of use of personal protective equipment. These injuries tend to result in burns, small and large cuts, slips and trips, falls, crushing, trench collapses, electrocution, falling objects, equipment failure or misuse and overexertion. Many of these kinds of injuries unfortunately befall innocent bystanders or passers-by, since the unsafe condition may not be immediately evident to other laborers working nearby, outside contractors, or managerial staff visiting the site for inspections.

Other work-related injuries and fatalities are often a result of vehicular accidents. The UAE has one of the highest per capita occurrences of automobile accidents of any country in the world, and car crashes took the lives of 720 individuals and injured an additional 7,808 in 2011 alone. Thankfully, the central government has started cracking down on speeding and reckless driving over the last few years and the death toll is on the decline, but roadways around major cities such as Abu Dhabi are still considered dangerous.

Interestingly, the October 2011 Blackberry Blackout that caused frustration around the world for millions of users had an interesting upside. Officials reported that during the three days that the devices were not functioning there was a 20% decrease in auto accidents in Dubai, and a 40% decrease in Abu Dhabi, thus confirming the very real danger of talking or texting while driving.

Not to be overlooked is the impact that the climate of the UAE can have on someone, particularly if they are working outside, even if only for a short period of time. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are very common during warmer months from late spring through early autumn and temperatures can reach 50°C during the day in summer. In conditions such as this, it is not hard for a person exerting themselves during the hottest part of the day to overheat in a matter of minutes and even go into a state of hyperthermia.  

Symptoms of heat stroke should be viewed as medical emergency since in severe cases, it can cause brain damage and even be fatal. Less serious, but still very dangerous, heat exhaustion can leave someone feeling drained, weak and dehydrated for several days and lessens the body's ability to cope with high temperatures in the future. During the hottest part of the day, it is advised to stay well hydrated, avoid direct sun exposure and stay in an air-conditioned location as much as possible.

Finally, another environmental health risk that is common among workers in the UAE, comes from the high concentration of airborne particulates, primarily from dust storms and construction work. This form of air-pollution causes respiratory irritations for most and even results in severe difficulty breathing for some people who have conditions such as asthma. For these reasons, it is critical to use a dust mask when working in dusty areas and keep an eye on air quality reports and avoid spending time outdoors when conditions are at their worst.

As mentioned above, work-related injuries are largely preventable and while there are inherent risks to working in locations such as the UAE, these can largely be mitigated and controlled by simply being aware of your surroundings and following basic safety guidelines.


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Registered Office: PO Box 391195, Dubai, UAE