RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Monday launched a major workplace health and safety initiative aimed at drastically cutting the costs to businesses caused through employee illnesses and injuries.
The Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has set up a new platform to help regulate occupational safety and health standards in the Kingdom.
Sattam Al-Harbi, undersecretary of agency responsible for the control and development of the work environment, told Arab News: “One of the most important rules to increase productivity in the labor market is mitigating the risk of health and safety. Work injuries cost the gross domestic product more than 4 percent in many countries.”
The new unified platform, announced during an international conference being held at the Hilton Riyadh hotel, has been based on the Vision 2030 national transformation program.
“Enhancing health and safety will result in reducing absence days in workplaces, which will positively impact productivity, and the private sector, and that will reflect on the economy as a whole.
“The platform is ready now and we are enhancing it continuously. It has been updated with all our new programs and initiatives,” Al-Harbi said.
Speaking during the launch, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmed Al-Rajhi said that the platform had been designed to protect the labor force by incorporating occupation health and safety standards within the working environment.
Through the platform, employees are able to report work accidents thereby initiating investigation procedures, a process that would contribute toward protection employees from losses resulting from work accidents and injuries, as well as violations and legal claims, the minister added.
Al-Rajhi said: “Among the scheme’s strategic objectives are the creation of a safe and attractive work environment, believing in a worker’s right to be protected from any danger that poses a threat to their safety or health, in application, and in compliance, with the provisions of the national strategy for occupational health and safety.”
Al-Harbi pointed out that the strategic objectives were in line with best international standards and practices.
As part of the national strategy, a first batch of 18,000 people will be enrolled onto the occupational health and safety cadres’ program with the cooperation and support of the Human Resources Development Fund, “Hadaf”.
“Enhancing capabilities is one of the ways we aim to stimulate the economy. Training courses, media, communication plans and other programs we have on offer will help us achieve our vision to reduce worker injuries and increase the compliance for work and safety requirements,” Al-Harbi said.
The Hilton conference is organized annually by the ministry as part of the Kingdom’s strategic program to raise awareness about health and safety in the workplace.
During the event, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the ministry and Umm Al-Qura University to establish a center to develop the scope of the ministry’s health and safety research.
Organizations represented at the conference included Aramco, Sabic, Umm Al-Qura University, and the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management, and in a ceremony the IIRSM presented an engraved plaque to the minister in recognition of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to improving occupational health and safety.
IIRSM chief executive officer, Phillip Pearson, who presented the award, told Arab News: “We wanted to congratulate Saudi Arabia on the journey that it is currently going through to protect people and save lives.”
He noted that the number of work-related fatalities had dropped over the past five years.
“Saudi Arabia has challenges, like any country, and today it’s really important to see the commitment from the government that shows they take health and safety very, very seriously. And that’s come across really strongly,” he said.
Pearson pointed out that one of the challenges faced by Saudi Arabia would be adopting a system of health and safety tailored to the Kingdom.
“There’s no point in copying somebody else’s systems. These have to be specific to your nation, and they have to work for your nation.
“We want to help Saudi Arabia progress and we also want to learn from Saudi Arabia; learn from positive things you’ve done and also learn from the negatives as well, because we need to be honest and open,” he added.
Some of the topics being covered at the conference include the importance of mental health and wellbeing, industrial hygiene, pre-employment processing and handling, issues linked to work-related diseases and injuries, international trends of occupational medicine, and adopting modern applications and technologies to improve workplace occupational health and safety standards.