Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

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Employers in Qatar must understand that ensuring their workers’ safety and health is a win-win situation for everyone, an international organization has said.

This not only leads to a satisfied workforce, but also a productive one – and provides a reputation boost for the companies involved, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) added.

During its annual Middle Eastern conference in Doha this week, IOSH released a five-year strategy to boost worker wellness across the world.

J. Zach Hollo

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The plan is particularly pertinent in Qatar, where construction firms have come under intense scrutiny since the country was awarded the 2022 World Cup.

Many high-profile projects in Qatar enforce strict health and safety standards.

But Amnesty International and other organizations have long documented the comparatively dismal safety record of projects that are not in the spotlight.

Biggest challenges

According to Ala’a Sukhni, the vice-chair of IOSH’s Qatar branch, the biggest challenges health and safety professionals face in the country are falls from a height, and illnesses caused by the heat and dust.

Sukhni said that there are a variety of products and solutions that can help reduce this risk, and that IOSH encourages Qatar-based companies to invest in them.

Shabina S. Khatri

Lower criminal court in Doha

Several Qatar firms were convicted of manslaughter and fined last year after workers were killed on the job.

Four of the deaths were deemed to have been caused by falls due to poor signage and lighting, poor supervision and a lack of safety equipment.

Summer is near

As the weather heats up, Sukhni also offered several tips on how companies can best protect their workers from the heat and dust.

They include:

  • Setting up an air-conditioned room where workers can spend their breaks and eat their meals;
  • Making sure employees avoid working in direct sun wherever possible;
  • Supplying adequate quantities of cooled water for drinking, particularly on hot days;
  • Mandating a 15-minute break each hour during the hottest months of the year. That break must be taken in an air-conditioned environment, and workers must be encouraged to drink and eat during this break;
  • Spraying water on dusty areas to reduce swirling dust; and
  • Providing loose clothing and visors to protect workers against dust.

Richard Messenger/Flickr

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“Our officials are working hard to provide guidance on this,” Sukhni told Doha News. “It’s important that there is more awareness of the importance of these measures.”

New government guidelines

IOSH is not the only entity calling for improvements in Qatar’s approach to health and safety on construction sites.

The country’s own Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) has also recently released new guidelines designed to make workplaces safer.

The guide includes advice on things like proper fencing and signs, working hours, traffic management, the transportation of construction material, scaffolding, lights and noise levels.

It also urges developers to consider the environmental aspects of their sites, keeping in mind their footprint on nearby plants, local wildlife and public spaces.

Reputations at stake

One way to persuade more firms to take better care of their workers is to emphasize the importance of a good public image and reputation.

According to a recent IOSH survey, executives of local construction firms are aware that they are being judged by their health and safety record.

Mohamad Alodaima/Flickr

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Ninety-one percent of 250 MENA business leaders surveyed told IOSH that they believed investing in the health and safety of their workforce was essential to ensuring their business had a good reputation.

Eighty-five percent also said that their employees’ health and safety was a top priority at board level.

Promoting best practice

According to Sukhni, one of the ways best ways to tackle Qatar’s health and safety challenges is to emphasize international best practice and explain why this benefits everyone.

“We have 455 IOSH members in Qatar, and we work across all industries.” Sukhni told Doha News. “The country is ambitious about growth, so it’s important to improve health and safety at the same time. Our members play a vital role in this.”

To help them spread the word, Sukhni’s Qatar branch organizes regular site visits so that its members can see how their competitors are working to ensure the safety of their staff.

Reem Saad / Doha News

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It also focuses on the importance of training and the provision of proper equipment.

Most importantly, according to Sukhni, the aim is to prevent safety issues in the first place.

“We always try to avoid the hazard completely. But where it’s not possible, we need to reduce exposure or provide personal protective equipment as a last resort,” he said.

Thoughts?

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Media freedom in Qatar has continued to deteriorate for the fourth year in a row, according to a new report by Reporters Without Borders.

Qatar is now ranked 123rd out of 180 countries on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Down six spots from last year, the score is the lowest the country has seen in at least a decade.

RSF

2016 World Press Freedom Index. Orange is problematic, red is “bad” and black is “very bad.”

The index measures media independence and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, among other things.

Each country’s score is calculated by experts’ answers to questionnaires, as well as “data on abuses and violence against journalists” last year.

Speaking to Doha News, Alexandra El Khazen, head of RSF’s Middle East desk, said Qatar dropped in the rankings for several reasons.

Mostly, however, it’s because nothing was done “to significantly improve the work environment for journalists,” she said.

Despite the tumble, Qatar remains ahead of the rest of the Gulf, except for Kuwait and the UAE.

Doha News

El Khazen pointed out that a Danish film crew was detained and questioned while in Qatar last year.

Their experience comes after authorities arrested two different film crews in 2015. This has made journalists more apprehensive about investigating and reporting on the country, RSF said at the time.

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This year, the Paris-based organization said reporters continue to have “little leeway” to report stories in the face of an “oppressive legislative arsenal and “draconian system of censorship.”

El Khazen said one example of this is the government’s blocking of Doha News inside the country six months ago due to “licensing issues.”

RSF and rights groups have denounced the ban as censorship on one of the country’s only independent media outlets.

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

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And even the US State Department theorized that the blocking of DN had to do with its “coverage of socially sensitive issues ranging from labor rights to homosexuality.”

DN has since moved its operations outside of the country so that it is no longer violating any rules, but the government has still not unblocked it.

However, in March, RSF launched a mirrored version of the Doha News website that is accessible in Qatar to mark the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship.

Al Jazeera

RSF does acknowledge that in Qatar, one bright spot amid a sea of self-censorship is Al Jazeera, which swept an awards ceremony in the US last week.

It won Broadcaster of the Year, as well as five gold world medals, 14 silver and seven bronze ones at the New York Festivals World’s Best TV & Films awards.

Paul Keller/Flickr

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Some of the award-winning reports spotlighted investigations in Afghanistan, Hong Kong and India.

But according to RSF, while the network “has transformed the media landscape in the rest of the Arab world,” it “ignores what happens in Qatar itself.”

Al Jazeera is government-funded. So is journalism and communications school Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Centre for Media Freedom.

Strict laws

Meanwhile, local journalists continue to be legally bound to Qatar’s media law, which has not been formally updated since 1979.

Under that, the government has the right to use “prior restraint.” This means it can order news outlets not to cover certain subjects.

The Cabinet also has the authority to shut down newspapers and cancel their licenses, making it almost impossible to cover government affairs critically.

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And Qatar’s cybercrime law, which was passed in 2014, has made it easier for criminals and those with personal agendas to silence others, including journalists.

This is because of its controversial privacy provisions. These make it illegal to publish news related to the personal or family life of individuals – even if the information is true.

The cybercrime law also contains a vaguely worded clause that criminalizes any content found to violate the country’s “social values” or “general order.”

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Dr. Najeeb Al Nuami

Last year, Qatar’s former justice minister publicly denounced the law. Najeeb Al Nuaimi called it a “tool of intimidation” that “was like a knife held close to the necks of writers, activists and journalists.”

Months later, he was banned from leaving Qatar over apparent charges of professional misconduct. He has said the accusations are baseless.

Global woes

Overall, it was a bad year for journalism around the world, with nearly two thirds (62.2%) of the countries measured deteriorating in terms of media freedom. We are now at a “tipping point,” RSF said in its report.

It added that the erosion of free media in democracies has been a particularly troubling development. Both the US and UK fell two spots in the latest rankings.

Popicinio/Flickr

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According to RSF:

“We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies.

In sickening statements, draconian laws, conflicts of interest, and even the use of physical violence, democratic governments are trampling on a freedom that should, in principle, be one of their leading performance indicators,” it said.

The top-scoring nations on this year’s Index were Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea held the bottom three positions.

Within the GCC, Kuwait ranked the highest at 104th, falling one spot from last year.

Roger H. Goun / Flickr

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It was followed by Qatar (123rd), the UAE (steady at 119th), Oman (down one spot to 126th), Bahrain (down two spots to 164th) and Saudi Arabia (down three spots to 168th).

Gulf states were brought down in the rankings because topics like ruling families and Islam continue to remain off limits to journalists there, El Khazen said.

Additionally, RSF slammed the UAE’s increasing surveillance of journalists and Saudi Arabia’s lack of independent media.

Thoughts?

EverSoccer

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A Seoul-based company has been awarded a $16.2 million contract to design Qatar’s Al Thumama World Cup stadium.

Heerim Architects and Planners Co. announced the agreement in a stock exchange statement this week, according to Zawya.

The South Korean firm has previously designed a stadium used by UEFA in Azerbaijan in 2015 and the main stadium for the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.

Heerim Architects and Planners Co.

2014 Asian Games Main Stadium in Incheon

The Qatar contract was awarded by the main contractor on the Al Thumama project, which is a joint venture between Al Jaber Engineering and Turkish firm Tekfen Construction.

The $342.5 million stadium, located between E-Ring and F-Ring roads, is expected to host matches up to the quarter-final stage.

It will seat some 40,000 fans, and like several other Qatar stadiums, be dismantled to accommodate half that many people after 2022.

Other stadiums

Qatar is currently readying eight stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. It will complete its first venue, the renovated Khalifa International, next month.

Others won’t be done until at least 2020. That includes Al Thumama and two other stadiums whose designs have yet to be finalized.

Qatar 2022 Bid Committee

Lusail Stadium rendering, as submitted by Qatar during bid process.

The most anticipated one is the Lusail Stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the tournament.

In 2015, officials announced that British firm Foster + Partners would work with sports and stadium experts including ARUP and Populous to create the final design for the arena.

It will be an “iconic, contemporary stadium inspired by Qatari culture,” the head of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL) Hassan Al Thawadi said at the time.

SCDL

View from the upcoming Ras Abu Aboud stadium

Meanwhile, the Ras Abu Aboud stadium is also still being designed. It will be located on a waterfront and when completed, face the Doha skyline.

Global architecture firm Populous is also working on the design for that venue, the SCDL said on its website.

Additionally, the main contractor for the Ras Abu Abboud project is expected to be chosen by June of this year.

Thoughts?

MOI

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Despite security concerns from the US, a recent audit of Qatar’s Hamad International has found it to be one of the safest airports in the world, officials said.

The results come amid an indefinite ban on laptops and tablets onboard flights from Doha and nine other Middle Eastern cities to the US.

The US Department of Homeland Security said the move was made in response to concerns about potential terrorist attacks.

Richard Lee/Flickr

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However, Qatar apparently scored highly in a February audit by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO).

According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), here are some of the scores Qatar received from the ICAO’s Universal Security Audit Program (USAP):

  • 99.1 percent for protecting aviation against unlawful interference (i.e terrorism and smuggling);
  • 96.76 percent for implementing safety management; and
  • 100 percent in a section that related to customs and immigration processes.

The USAP results “proved that HIA is one of the safest airports in the world,” the head of the Qatar Aviation Authority (QCAA) said.

Caveats

However, it is difficult to assess how Qatar measured up against other nations.

This is because results of ICAO security audits are usually kept secret.

Speaking to Doha News, a representative from the organization said, “we cannot make public or otherwise confirm anything to do with security audit findings.”

Hussain Didi/Flickr

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In the past, only a few nations have chosen to share their scores with the public.

In November 2015 for example, Indian aviation authorities disclosed that they had been given scores of 99.23 percent and 99.59 per cent in two ICAO audit areas.

And in April 2016, Nigerian authorities said they had scored an average of 96 percent in a similar audit.

MOI

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Qatar’s MOI did not respond to requests for more details about the country’s scores or world ranking.

Another notable fact about the audits is that countries are given at least four months notice before they are conducted.

And they have the opportunity to accept or reject suggested audit dates, according to USAP guidelines.

Significant improvement

Still, the average of the three scores shared by Qatar officials – 98.6 percent – is a big improvement from the nation’s 2012 overall score of 78.76 percent.

That was when flights were still departing from Doha International Airport.

MOI/Twitter

Ministry of Interior office at Hamad International Airport

Speaking to QNA, Director of Airport Security Brig. Essa Arar Al Rumaihi credited the higher score to a combination of better training and an investment in new technology over the past five years.

HIA has has apparently trained more than 1,000 security personnel since it opened in 2014.

It has also purchased new “inspection” devices that airport officials say will speed up the movement of passengers through security checkpoints.

More details about these devices have not been shared, but officials said that they were being used “for the first time in the world” at HIA.

A ‘smart airport’

Meanwhile, officials continue to work on introducing a “smart traveler” system at the airport, plans for which were announced last year.

The goal is to automate almost all processes at the airport, from bag weighing to boarding pass printing to e-gates and boarding the aircraft.

Speaking about the plans this week, Airport Security Department director Brig Essa Arrar al-Rumaihi said:

“The vision is that travelers can complete all travel procedures electronically without any human interference.”

The move should help with wait times at the over-capacity airport, as well as reduce costs for operators.

Immigration queues

Among the new processes is e-gate, which fast-tracks residents through immigration. This service was rolled out free of charge to adults living in Qatar late last year.

According to airport officials, making it free has caused many more people to avail of the service in the past several months.

But because it is not open to children, some travelers still face lengthy waits at immigration.

Thoughts?