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September 25, 2014

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Safety at Dubai Airport: preparing for takeoff

Dubai has a simple, yet ambitious vision – to be the world’s leading aviation hub. Rob Cooling outlines how health and safety is being embedded into its growth strategy.


Dubai now has the world’s busiest airport


Dubai International Airport has now surpassed London Heathrow as the world’s busiest airport; in the first five months of 2014 it hosted 29.6 million passengers compared to 28.47 million at London Heathrow. However, this achievement pales into insignificance when compared to Dubai’s longer-term expansion plans.

Boasting two newly refurbished runways, Dubai International Airport has intentions to increase its air traffic in line with Dubai Airport’s 2020 Strategic Plan; the long-term aim being to expand passenger capacity to 103 million by 2020. This target date coincides with Expo 2020, the world exposition, which takes place every five years, and is being held in the Middle East for the first time.

Post-2020 expansion will hinge on the new Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central; a development almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island and 10 times bigger than the existing Dubai Airport. The ultimate goal is to support 200 million passengers by 2050.

Growth in the air, however, requires expansion on the ground, and overall responsibility for the delivery of all aviation-related infrastructure lies with Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects (DAEP).

Over the last 15 years, DAEP has overseen the spectacular development of Dubai’s airports and in 2012 became established as an independent government body to work closely with national partners in aviation and government to ensure that Dubai’s grand visions for growth in the aviation sector could be met.

“In Dubai, we have a history of delivering world-class aviation infrastructure on time, but the test is always ensuring that health and safety is given equal billing to other project drivers, such as cost and schedule,” explains Suzanne Al Anani, DAEP’s chief executive officer.

“However, health and safety is increasingly being perceived as an enabler for the successful execution of major programmes.”

Formulating strategy

DAEP’s emergence as an independent body has resulted in the creation of the  ‘Delivering Beyond Expectations’ vision, founded on a primary strategic objective to deliver world-class sustainable, engineering and planning solutions for Dubai.

To ensure that health and safety was fully embedded in this approach, both at a corporate and project level, DAEP’s first move was to develop a health and safety strategy. Its purpose was to answer a number of fundamental questions, namely – what health and safety goals did DAEP want to achieve? Who were the important stakeholders that needed to be involved in the strategy to ensure the goals were accomplished? How would the strategy be put into practice?

One of the strategy’s core elements was its vision of a future state of health and safety performance. The 2020 vision of ‘Beyond Zero’ was eventually agreed, and aligned to DAEP’s corporate vision of ‘Delivering Beyond Expectations’.

DAEP supported this with a high-level statement that included specific criteria relating to the vision, communicated in a language that could be understood by all stakeholders.

Sitting behind it all was DAEP’s philosophy – an intention to progress beyond zero fatalities, zero disabling injury incidents, and other safety targets typically included in zero-based visions, to encourage continuous improvements in health and safety performance.

In a further move, the strategy encompassed a number of strategic outcomes, each one deemed necessary to achieve the ‘Beyond Zero’ vision. DAEP also set up associated programmes to ensure that each outcome could be achieved. These programmes were compiled into an overarching 2020 implementation plan, which created a clear road map for the vision’s realisation.

Setting expectations

One of DAEP’s roles is to oversee the consultants and contractors that have been appointed for the project management, construction and delivery of the aviation- related infrastructure to the end user.

For this reason, DAEP recognised the need to establish a health and safety governance structure, one that would incorporate the necessary systems and capabilities to ensure the control of entities under its direction.

One important component in the governance framework was the development of an expectations document, which would detail the minimum requirements that applied to all parties engaged by DAEP.

Developed over an extensive consultation period, the document drew on input from relevant stakeholders from across the aviation sector via a series of workshops. As a result, DAEP was confident that the expectations document contained specific health and safety requirements that could be applied to the lifecycle of aviation-related infrastructure projects.

The consultation process gave rise to wider benefits. The consultants and contractors that were ultimately tasked with ensuring compliance took ownership of the document and thereby made sure that all of its requirements could be implemented in practice.

The end result was a set of high-level health and safety requirements that embraced international best practice. The expectations document was framed in line with the requirements of OHSAS 18001, with the understanding that if an entity had an existing health and safety management system in place, then the additional work required to ensure compliance with the expectations would not be perceived as substantial.

However, in areas that DAEP deemed particularly important, specific and more detailed provisions were included, for instance, the management of fatal risks, safety in design, and supply chain management.

In an important move, the expectations encouraged the consultants and contractors to adopt a strategic and cross-functional approach in their management of health and safety risks. The consultants and contractors were able to avoid taking an overly prescriptive approach and were permitted to use discretion when it came to developing the systems and processes that would enable proportionate risk management.

[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”12″ align=”left”]”Over the coming years, Dubai has plans to deliver an extraordinary growth strategy in the aviation sector.” [/mk_blockquote]

Early on, DAEP decided to embed the expectations document in the conditions of contract that were issued to consultants and contractors for all new tenders.

“This allows provision for health and safety to be costed into tenders and avoids situations whereby claims are lodged for variations when requests for improvements in health and safety are made after a contract has been awarded,” explains Mohamed Chahwan, DAEP’s director of health, safety, security and environment, on one of the major benefits of pursuing this policy.

“We are already seeing that the greater emphasis given to health and safety during the planning stage is reducing the amount of fire-fighting, or reactive fixing of problems my team has to carry out when a project has started.”

Auditing compliance

Once the relevant parties had been issued with the expectations document, DAEP set about auditing the consultants and contractors against its requirements.

To do this, DAEP developed an audit-scoring tool with a maximum score of 1,000. Auditors were then tasked with determining compliance with each area (e.g. risk management, performance management) of the expectations as either: commendable, satisfactory, marginal or unsatisfactory.

DAEP’s management had decided which areas were of particular importance in terms of having an impact on the final score and made sure that a weighting system was incorporated in the audit-scoring methodology to achieve this.

Once the audit programme was complete, DAEP executives received a summary report that provided an overview of the most important themes that had emerged from the audits.

As Mr Chahwan points out, the report also detailed commendable practices that were evident in each area of the expectations document.

“We wanted to make sure that the expectations audits didn’t just focus on negatives, but showcased the innovative work being done to drive health and safety improvements,” he says. “This undertaking is just the start of a wider exercise of sharing and disseminating best practice across the sector.”

The culmination of the expectations audit programme was marked with an awards ceremony designed to promote health and safety, reward the highest audit scorer and incentivise performance. The plan is to conduct the expectations audit annually and it is hoped that the competitive climate fostered by the programme will help to drive continuous improvements in health and safety standards, culture and performance.

Moving forward

With the Dubai World Central master plan completed, and design and construction activities underway, a dramatic increase in site-level activity is anticipated. However, DAEP is confident that the groundwork has been put in place for a robust health and safety corporate governance framework.

Mr Chahwan, however, recognises that this is only the starting point in a long journey towards achieving the ‘Beyond Zero’ vision: “As we move towards 2015, we will start to implement some of the other projects detailed within the health and safety strategy, including access to a web-based system for health and safety assurance and reporting,” he explains.

“We are also going to increase the focus on health and well-being, including audits of standards within labour camps, to ensure that our attention is not limited to site operations.”

Over the coming years, Dubai has plans to deliver an extraordinary growth strategy in the aviation sector. With an understanding of the lessons learnt from previous mega projects around the world and in the Middle East region, the Emirate is well positioned to ensure these developments take place in a safe, healthy and sustainable manner.

Of course, the true test is time, but with the unrelenting commitment of DAEP’s top management and all stakeholders in the sector, the aspiration is that the ‘Beyond Zero’ vision will one day become a reality.


Rob Cooling is risk services manager at Parsons Brinckerhoff, Middle East and North Africa   


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