A skyscraper risesThere are a number of industries in the United Arab Emirates that have excellent safety records, ensuring workers are cognizant of what is required for their own benefit, while keeping to the optimum level of efficiency.

But falls from height remain the most common and the single biggest cause of workplace fatalities and one of the main causes of major injury.

Data submitted by 18 contractors, covering 388 projects, reported 690 lost-time incidents and 20 fatalities in 2008. In 2009, 36 contractors provided data on 479 projects and, although there were more schemes, fatalities halved to 10, while lost-time incidents fell to 530.

The UAE construction workforce consists of a large population of people who may not have even worked on a construction site before; therefore, high-rise activity poses an enormous level of risk if not addressed properly.

The UAE is making clear strides improving on health and safety at construction sites, but unified legislation would have a greater impact in the region 

Construction stakeholders must abide by the regulations that exist in the UAE specific to ‘working at heights.’ They apply to all work at height where there is a risk that a fall could cause personal injury.

Injuries from falls and falling objects in 2008:

Construction, 59 per cent; manufacturing, 11 per cent; domestic work three per cent; transport, three per cent; administrative work, three per cent; agriculture and fishing, two per cent.

Causes of fatal work injuries in Abu Dhabi between 2008 and 2010:

Falls and falling objects, 50 per cent; road traffic and other transport 29 per cent; fire/flame, hot substance, five per cent; electricity, four per cent; suffocation, three per cent; drowning, three per cent, machinery one per cent; poisoning, less than one per cent; other, four per cent.

Source: Health Authority Abu Dhabi

What is Fall Protection?

Fall protection is a broad term that is used to describe various types of equipment and policies that help to minimize the potential for workers to be injured when managing tasks that are high above ground level.


“Across the Gulf Cooperation Council, legislation is fragmented and typically at an early stage of development,” In many cases, specific legislation is not readily available and exists only in the form of Labour Law, as opposed to health and safety legislation.

In the case of the UAE, there is existing legislation, however, it is not federal and as such varies from one emirate to another.”

The 1980 Labor Law is the legislation currently in place in the UAE, supplemented by a ministerial order made in 1982. Chapter five of the law covers the safety, protection, health and social care of employees in 10 articles. These articles set out the entitlements of workers in terms of protective safety equipment, fire procedures, first-aid boxes, ventilation, sanitation, water and medical care.

But all references to safety on site are rather general in scope and construction professionals say the region would benefit from more prescriptive laws. For example, article 97 of the law states: “The employer or his representative at the time of appointment must keep employees informed of the dangers related to their profession and preventive measures they have to take. Moreover, the employer must display detailed written instructions in this respect at places of business.”

These broad statements mean that contractors can interpret them as they deem appropriate. Furthermore, stipulations such as the need for written instructions are of little use if written in Arabic or English for an Urdu-speaking laborer, particularly if he cannot read.

Contractors agree that unified health and safety legislation would help. “Standard legal requirements for the country will support improving the health, safety and environmental performance and preventing misunderstanding or lack of awareness for any of the requirements,”

But other firms question how useful standardized, prescriptive legislation would be when enforcement is difficult?

Legislation is not the main issue. The issue is more about the ability to enforce and maintain standards.

Why do we need protection from falling?

We need protection because even those of us with experience working at heights can lose our balance or grip; we can slip, trip, or misstep at any time. We may think that our reflexes will protect us, but we're falling before we know it, and we don't have to fall far to be seriously injured. We've been falling since Day One. Until we get better at landing, we'll need protection from falling.

How do construction workers fall?

Did you know that falls from ladders, roofs, and scaffolds account for more than half of all disabling falls to lower levels? Disabling falls from ladders, roofs, and scaffolds are most frequent within the construction trades.

What is the cause of such falls? Loss of balance caused by slipping, tripping, and shifting or unstable ladders.

Below is a list prioritized list showing the types of falls that cause the most injuries. As you can see, most fall injuries are caused by falls from ladders.

  • Falls from ladders
  • Falls to lower level, unspecified
  • Falls from roofs
  • From scaffolds or staging
  • Falls from non-moving vehicles
  • Falls from floors, docks, or ground level
  • Falls down stairs
  • Falls from girders or structural steel
  • Falls from piled or stacked material

What can be done to reduce falls?

For many in the construction industry, fall-protection equipment is the first thing that comes to mind: personal fall-arrest systems, safety nets, or guardrails, for example. But fall protection means more than equipment. Fall protection is what you do to eliminate fall hazards, to prevent falls, and to ensure that workers who may fall aren't injured.

You accomplish fall protection by doing the following:

  • Make fall protection part of your workplace safety and health program.
  • Identify and evaluate fall hazards.
  • Eliminate fall hazards, if possible.
  • Train workers to recognize fall hazards.
  • Use appropriate equipment to prevent falls and to protect workers if they do fall.
  • Inspect and maintain fall-protection equipment before and after using it.
  • Become familiar with OSHA and company fall-protection rules.

Providing information, regulatory authorities for various sectors will ensure that companies follow safety regulations for work undertaken at heights, these regulations are included within a number of Abu Dhabi Environment, Health and Safety Management System codes, as well as under the UAE Labor Law

In conclusion

Employers must provide a training program that teaches employees who might be exposed to fall hazards how to recognize such hazards and how to minimize them. Employees must be trained in the following areas: (a) the nature of fall hazards in the work area; (b) the correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling, and inspecting fall protection systems; (c) the use and operation of controlled access zones and guardrail, personal fall arrest, safety net, warning line, and safety monitoring systems; (d) the role of each employee in the safety monitoring system when the system is in use; (e) the limitations on the use of mechanical equipment during the performance of roofing work on low-sloped roofs; (f) the correct procedures for equipment and materials handling and storage and the erection of overhead protection; and, (g) employees' role in fall protection plans.