November 12, 2018

Saudi Arabia puts the spotlight on Occupational Health and Safety

As employers increasingly focus on employee wellness programs and preventative measures to manage employee use of private medical insurance, occupational health and safety is becoming increasingly important in the GCC. In Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Labour and Social Development recently introduced a new Resolution* which seeks to give employers a practical framework within which to manage health and safety issues in the workplace. In this article, we outline the new prescriptive measures which employers now must comply with. The Resolution applies to employers with fifty 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, petrochemical, coal and rubber industries, manufacture of prefabricated concrete, stone, granite and bricks. Manufacture of plastics, bottled drinks disposable artificial materials, manufacture of metals, chemical industries, transport sector, general manufacturing of consumer good, foods, plastic, textile, building materials, carpentry, relevant machinery, household appliances, accessories, dairy factories, jewellery, 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, liabilities on the employer and individual employees as well as specifying the various roles of key employees in implementing the policy, reporting duties to GOSI (needs to be defined earlier first) with regard to 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 through an intranet) and inform all employees on training obligations and opportunities, presentations to take place and notices required.

The policy must be review 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 for discharging its obligations regarding health and safety, including, by way of HR, finance, technology, infrastructure and equipment.

Employees must also be informed of their obligations and their individual liabilities as well as responsibilities, as well as being told who specifically within the management team is responsible for health and safety in the workplace.  The management team is given specific duties with regard to 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 emails, 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, where possible, to identified hazards e.g. use of specific materials. These measures should be regularly reviewed.

Additional Duties on 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,  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 a) work related injuries, illness, diseases and accidents; b) health risks to which employees are exposed, c) an overview of the work environment, risks associated with specific activity and measures to combat them; d) work permits, licences and relevant certificates, e) minutes of meetings of the health and safety committee, f) data of service providers and contractors; and g) 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 email address or physical box for staff to submit suggestions. Safety signs, bulletin boards and posters should also 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 also 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 prioritise them.  A concrete plan of action, together with key performance indicators and the financial resources to be put towards 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

Where 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.

High Risk Environments

Employers in these environments must set reliable procedures for purchases which 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 include safety measures and requirements in any contract for the purchase of such goods.

These employers also have to audit their operations formally, producing periodic audits, with preventative and corrective measures for any areas of non- compliance identified, as well as striving for continuous improvement.

* Resolution Number 161238 dated 10/8/1439 H, which came into effect on 17/10/1439 H corresponding to 1 July 2018