Saudi Arabia: Spotlight Put on Occupational Health and Safety

By Sara Khoja © Clyde & Co. LLP November 16, 2018
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Saudi Arabia: Spotlight Put on Occupational Health and Safety

​Occupational health and safety is becoming increasingly important in the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose members are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE). In Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development recently introduced a new resolution that seeks to give employers a practical framework within which to manage health and safety issues in the workplace. This article outlines the new prescriptive measures that employers now must comply with. The resolution applies to employers with 50 employees or more and categorizes employers, according to their industry activity, into low-, medium- and high-risk environments.

Low-, Medium- and High-Risk Environments

Medium-risk environments are those operated by employers with the following commercial activities: construction; building; oil and gas; electricity; water and gas; health services; mines and quarries; manufacture of cement; petrochemicals; coal and rubber industries; manufacture of prefabricated concrete, stone, granite and bricks; manufacture of plastics, bottled drinks and disposable artificial materials; manufacture of metals; chemical industries; the transport sector; general manufacturing of consumer goods, foods, plastic, textile and building materials, carpentry, relevant machinery, household appliances and accessories; dairy factories; jewelry; and minting.

Low-risk environments are those operated by employers carrying out other commercial activities. While there is no definition of high-risk environments, employers are expected to assess their work activities and working environments to decide whether in fact they should comply with the requirements for high-risk environments (e.g., use of hazardous materials).

Minimum Framework

All employers are obliged to do the following within the framework they put in place under the resolution:

Written policy. An employer must have a written policy published in Arabic and the commonly spoken language at the establishment, if different. The policy should specify the employer's expectations of employees and its priorities; identify general processes, as well as liabilities on the employer and individual employees; and specify the various roles of key employees in implementing the policy and reporting duties to Saudi Arabia's General Organization for Social Insurance about occupational accidents and diseases.

The policy should take into account the size, nature and activities of the business. It must be signed by the CEO, director general or senior management. It should be accessible by all staff—whether in hard copy or electronically—and inform all employees on training obligations and opportunities, presentations to take place and notices required.

The policy must be reviewed at least every two years.

Liability and accountability. The resolution expressly states that an employer will be liable to employees, as well as contractors and third parties, such as visitors and passers-by, in terms of health and safety issues on its premises. An employer must provide sufficient resources to HR, finance, technology, infrastructure and equipment for discharging its obligations regarding health and safety.

Employees must also be informed of their obligations and their individual liabilities and responsibilities, as well as be told who specifically within the management team is responsible for health and safety in the workplace. The management team is given specific duties for implementing the health and safety framework with a requirement that one or more of them be appointed to do the following:

  • Develop and implement the regulation of health and safety issues in the workplace.
  • Regularly review and assess the framework put in place.
  • Submit periodic reports to various sections of the business on the regulation of the framework in place.
  • Promote the participation of all employees in the process by facilitating employee consultation.
  • Report to all levels of the business through e-mails, posters, presentations and other communication methods on health and safety issues.

Efficiency and training. Employees must be trained in health and safety issues and given all the information necessary to perform their roles in a safe way. Training procedures should be provided as well as training courses delivered during working hours and conducted in a language the employees understand.

Review and assessment of health and safety. Audits and reviews of the health and safety environment should be carried out periodically by competent staff who should provide a full assessment on the employer's compliance with applicable laws. Existing controls should be tested. Following the audit or review, a compliance report should be compiled identifying shortcomings and timelines for remedial action to be taken.

Preventive and control measures. Once a risk assessment is carried out, risks should be eliminated, or managed if they cannot be removed, and specific processes should be put in place. Alternatives should be considered, when possible, to identify hazards. These measures should be regularly reviewed.

Additional Duties in Medium and High-Risk Environments

In addition to the above, employers operating medium- or high-risk environments should provide the following:

Employee participation. Employees should be consulted on identifying and assessing risk in the workplace; developing guidelines, procedures, and policies; selecting equipment; conducting testing of equipment; making changes in the workplace; and notifying news in the staff newsletter. Employers should also establish a task force or committee of employees to work with senior management on occupational health and safety issues.

Record-keeping. Employers must: keep records of work-related injuries, illness, diseases and accidents; keep records of health risks to which employees are exposed; maintain an overview of the work environment, risks associated with specific activity and measures to combat them; maintain work permits, licenses and relevant certificates; keep minutes of meetings of the health and safety committee; keep records as to data of service providers and contractors; and maintain records on relevant training received by employees.

Employees may have access to these records.

System of communication. Employers should have newsletters with news and training information for staff. They should also have an e-mail address or physical box for staff to submit suggestions. Safety signs, bulletin boards and posters should be used. Regular face-to-face meetings with staff should also be held and an internal network created as well as an online forum for employees to access.

Internal communication should address external contractors, service providers and visitors.

Planning, development and implementation of occupational safety and health processes. A planning process should be developed, with a written list of objectives and how to prioritize them. A concrete plan of action, together with key performance indicators and the financial resources to be put toward ensuring achievement of these goals must be put in place.

Objectives should be specific, measurable, realistic and achievable, relevant, have a timeline, be proactive and interactive.

Contracting

When contractors are appointed to perform specific tasks, the health and safety framework will apply and they must be informed of it and comply. Contractors include those who are long-term contract employees, service providers and construction workers working on the renovation of the site.

Health and safety standards must be included in the procedures for assessing and selecting contractors and the framework should be communicated to all contractors—potential and actual.

Monitoring

The establishment should have systems to measure compliance, investigate breaches and implementation as well as a system for investigating and recording the origin of accidents and causes. Senior management must formally review and record an assessment of the monitoring system and circulate remedial action points and reports as appropriate.

Reliable Procedures for Purchases in High-Risk Environments

Employers in these environments must set reliable procedures for purchases that will impact health and safety, identifying risks posed by the purchases, ways in which these can be reduced, specifications required for the use of the purchases to be safe and including safety measures and requirements in any contract for the purchase of such goods.

These employers also must audit their operations formally, producing periodic audits, with preventative and corrective measures for any areas of noncompliance identified, and strive for continuous improvement.

Sara Khoja is an attorney with Clyde & Co. LLP in Dubai, UAE.  © 2018 Clyde & Co. LLP. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology.

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