Workplace health and safety in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

  • Legal Development 18 September 2023 18 September 2023
  • Middle East

  • Employment, Pensions & Immigration

Workplace health and safety is an evolving subject in the Kingdom, both legislatively and in practice; with a heightened focus on raising standards. In this article, we summarise the existing legislative framework as well as commenting on forthcoming legal developments, such as the recently announced Civil Code, which will come into effect around 16 December 2023 (and will have retrospective effect).

What are an employer’s health and safety obligations?

The Labour Law sets out a number of basic health and safety obligations on employers in the Kingdom. These include obligations to: 

  • maintain the worksite in a clean and hygienic condition, provide adequate lighting, supply drinking and washing water, provide antiseptics and provide appropriate toilet facilities;
  • post in a prominent place in the workplace instructions related to workplace health and safety. These should be published in Arabic and any other language understood by the workforce;
  • inform employees in advance of the hazards of their role;
  • supply employees with appropriate protective equipment, require employees to use such equipment and train employees on its proper use;
  • provide technical means to combat fire including fire extinguishers and safety exits which must be maintained in working condition at all times; and
  • make available one or more first aid cabinets, supplied with medicine and other necessities required for first aid.

Compliance with health and safety obligations under the Labour Law is important, not only with a view to seeking to protect an organisation’s workforce from workplace incidents and to avoid the reputational damage that workplace incidents can attract, but also because breaching such obligations can attract serious penalties under the Labour Law including fines (for example, a fine of SAR 25,000 can be imposed for a failure to comply with to take the necessary precautions to protect employees against hazards and diseases associated with work).

In addition to obligations under the Labour Law, the Ministry of Labour and Social development has issued a number of resolutions relating to workplace health and safety in recent years.

For example, the Regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 2018, requires employers to implement an Occupational Health and Safety Policy and prescribes the contents of such policy.

What are an employers’ responsibilities under the Labour Law where a workplace incident occurs?

Under the Labour Law and Social Insurance Law, an employer is responsible for any workplace injury suffered by one of its employees. 

A workplace injury is defined very broadly under the Social Insurance Law to include (unofficial English translation) "accidents occurring during or by reason of employment". This expressly includes any injuries incurred whilst travelling to and from work and during any travel for work purposes. It could also include injuries caused by the actions of a third party.
Liability for workplace injuries under the Labour Law and Social Insurance Law is strict, meaning that it is not necessary to show that the injury was caused by the fault of the employer. So long as the definition of workplace injury is met, liability under the Labour Law and Social Insurance Law will arise save where limited exceptions apply (such as where the employee deliberately injured himself).

An employer’s liability in relation to workplace injuries suffered by its employees includes the following:

  • An obligation to incur all expenses relating to the treatment of the injury.
  • Where the employee is temporarily unable to work as a result of the injury, maintain the employee's pay in full for 30 days and at 75% for the remaining duration of the treatment, or until:
    • it is medically determined that the prospects of recovery are improbable; or 
    • it is medically determined that the employee is not physically fit to work; or 
    • until a period of one year elapses. 
  • Where the workplace injury results in death or permanent disability, the employee (or the employee's beneficiaries) would be entitled to compensation, the extent of which would depend on the nature and extent of the injury. For KSA nationals, such compensation can be payable as a pension or a lump sum whereas, for non-KSA nationals, such compensation can only be payable as a lump sum.

Whilst the obligation to pay such compensation ultimately falls to the employer, in practice it would generally be covered by the mandatory contributions the employer will have made into General Organisation for Social Insurance (GOSI) on behalf of each of its employees. Litigation in relation to such compensation is therefore relatively rare. However, in order to claim GOSI benefits, the employer must comply with certain reporting obligations (such as reporting the incident to the local GOSI office within three days of becoming aware of it). Failure to do so could result in the employer being solely responsible for the payment of such compensation.

Can an employer or an individual be found criminally responsible for workplace incidents?

There is currently no codified criminal law in KSA dictating the acts which will and will not amount to criminal conduct. This gives the KSA Shariah Court wide discretion to attribute criminal liability in a broad range of circumstances.

In our experience, it is currently relatively rare (although not unheard of, such as in the well-publicised Saudi Bin Laden crane case in which the Supreme Court has recently upheld a number of criminal convictions on the basis of negligence and violation of safety rules) for criminal prosecutions to be made following a workplace health and safety incident. This is, however, an area of law and practice which is continuing to develop and therefore this position must be regarded as under review.

To the extent that the criminal authorities (including police or civil defence) became involved in a health and safety incident, the typical process would be for the police to conduct a preliminary investigation (involving witness interviews, collation of documentation etc.) and then, if there is a case to answer, for it to passed to the public prosecutor who will typically conduct its own investigation (again, involving witness interviews, collation of documentation etc.). If the public prosecutor deems there is a case to answer, the case will be raised before the court, of which there are three levels: Court of First Instance, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

It would be entirely at the discretion of the criminal authorities to determine responsibility for a health and safety incident (based on Shariah). Typically, such liability would fall to an individual rather than to the company itself and to the person or persons deemed to have responsibility for health and safety on site and who are considered to have failed to properly discharge such duty (by putting in place sufficient safeguards such as training, warning signs, protective equipment, systems of supervision and control, barriers and guarding etc).

What are the implications of the recently announced Civil Code on workplace health and safety incidents?

A new Civil Code was published in June 2023 and comes into effect later this year. Whilst it is still untested, it is certainly possible and likely that civil liability could arise under the Civil Code in relation to health and safety incidents as it introduces the concept of liability for a harmful act.

For example, there are broadly worded provisions under Article 120 of the Civil Code which state that every mistake causing harm to others requires compensation from the person who committed it.

Civil liability could potentially (depending on the circumstances) fall to the employer of the deceased / injury party or one or more of its employees (or, indeed, other parties). However, given such a claim will ultimately be a claim for money, it is more common for civil claims to be raised against a corporate entity who, generally, will have greater capacity to meet any financial order.

Our team of health and safety specialists are here to help with any health and safety queries in the Kingdom.


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