Minding safety in utilities
With demand expected to surge by 8.3% per year through to 2019, the Middle East will need to install an extra 156 gigawatts of capacity over the next five years, along with new transmission and distribution infrastructure
By Hasan Al Alaradi
In 2014 a report by Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation stated that The Middle East must invest $316bn in utilities over the next five years to keep up with its growing need for power.
With demand expected to surge by 8.3% per year through to 2019, the Middle East will need to install an extra 156 gigawatts of capacity over the next five years, along with new transmission and distribution infrastructure. The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority also announced plans to expand the scale and scope of its Utilities sector, expecting to spend $5.4bn on ambitious projects.
This all shows a lot of promise for the sector, and we are certainly experiencing an increase in the level and volume of work, which means more workers and increasingly tight deadlines. With more people comes more onus placed upon the HSE professionals to keep everything running smoothly, and more importantly safely. However, the health and safety culture within the sector is still poor in comparison to its counterparts around the world, although we have seen some improvement over the last year or so.
HSE performance is normally measured by counting the number of accidents, which does not help understand the actual risk involved in doing business. The true measurement of a safety performance is looking at what we are doing to create a positive safety culture within the sector. Success in business can’t be realised without creating a positive safety culture.
I believe that the poor health and safety standards in the Middle East are no different to many other facets of living in the region. We suffer from having a culture that has long been dependent on others to develop and implement systems and technology - even our drinking water is imported! What appears to matter most to us is how easily things that are ready-made can be purchased, rather than going through the process of creating them ourselves.
In the Utilities sector we often see budgets being wasted on the very latest equipment and technologies that are simply not needed and often cannot even be maintained properly. The need and desire to show off and keep up with others is too prevalent, leading to money simply being thrown away.
There is also an increasingly common trend for individuals to put their own needs before others, seeing personal gain as far more important than the benefit to society. The ‘what’s in it for me?’ culture must change if the industry, and in fact the region, is to improve.
Finally, with an uptake in workload comes increasingly tight deadlines, which puts too much obligation on hitting targets, driving workers to cover up or remove negative events that will not reflect well in their records. Ultimately, this could lead to lives being lost, whilst time is wasted pretending we have done all we can to prevent accidents. The leading figures within the industry need to step back and find out the best practices for ensuring work is completed on time, and safely.
There are certainly a number of ways in which the industry’s health and safety industry can be improved, pushing our brightest stars to the very top.
For a start, the region’s governments must strengthen their enforcement bodies. This can be done by investing in the right calibre and numbers of enforcing officers, who need to be trained in HSE to a university standard. They must be given the authority to take enforcement action and prohibit unsafe business activities, plus they must have a direct reporting line into the highest authority in their country’s ‘Head of Government’.
The Utilities industry must review and develop advanced HSE legislation that is up-to-date and carries severe punishments, such as fines or imprisonment. This will deter organisations from violating the law and endangering those involved. It must also be made mandatory to report statistics on an agreed frequency that are shared with all stakeholders, including the general public. This will create awareness of the scale of the problem, and motivate organisations to improve.
Governments and leading utilities facing organisations should invest in providing top quality training colleges that provide managers with hands-on skills to develop and implement HSE management systems that meet industry standards. This will encourage a culture amongst senior management of giving health and safety equal importance to any other facets of their business.
A leading figure - government or a leading organisation - within the Utilities sector should establish a safety award scheme to recognise individuals, as well as groups, with outstanding proactive participation in raising HSE standards. This will shine the light on the rising stars in the sector, but also attract the ‘what’s in it for me group?’ to up their game.
We have a long road ahead of us, but with the right training and a shift in the way the industry is viewed, I firmly believe that we can dramatically improve health and safety standards in the Middle East Utilities industry. In fact, it could end up leading other sectors and markets, by pioneering new routes and standards that others will then adopt and follow.
Hasan Al Alaradi is the managing director of RRC Middle East.