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HSE: Laying down the law

by Christopher Kelly on Oct 22, 2014

The UAE has passed key legislation to support the oil and gas sector’s HSE managers.
The UAE has passed key legislation to support the oil and gas sector’s HSE managers.

Historically the Middle East’s oil and gas industry has been accused of paying lip service to HSE issues and treating them as an inconvenient hoop, through which companies are forced to jump.

Invariably, the region took its lead from Western governments and companies and merely followed the same template.

In recent years, the Middle East has sharpened its focus on HSE issues and regional governments have passed a raft of legislation aimed at making the Middle East’s oil and gas industry, safer, more efficient and less environmentally destructive.

The oil and gas sector is heavily regulated across the world and the GCC is no different, where HSE standards are driven by “Supreme Councils” and a tiered approach is in place in the form of Federal and local laws. These Federal and local laws are further supported by Codes of Practice.

“Where the Middle East differs from the rest of the world, however, is that regulators are constantly reviewing HSE standards to meet the occupational HSE challenges of an ever-developing region and adapt to industry best practice,” says Maisaa Nasrallah, chairperson at IOSH’s UAE Branch.

Within the GCC and the wider Middle East the UAE has taken a leading role in passing key legislation to support the oil and gas sector’s HSE managers.

“The UAE has taken the forefront in recent years on the development and implementation of HSE standards across a variety of industries. However, countries, such as Qatar, have also worked hard on improving key aspects of their legal frameworks including worker welfare. Regulators look for international best practices implemented across the globe, in order to adapt them to the region and primarily base them on legislation from the UK, US and Australia,” she adds.

In recent years, the UAE has been amongst the leading players in the region in establishing guidelines and procedures specifically tailored to environmental management. Environmental regulations were previously dealt with by the Ministry of Health but the UAE has developed a specific government Ministry of Environment to deal with these issues.

“I think this was done because over the last decade the environment has become an extremely important aspect for the government and they wanted it to be represented at the highest possible level, which is the cabinet,” says ENOC’s Chief EHSQ compliance officer, Waddah Ghanem.

The UAE government’s commitment to environmental issues is evident in the way that it is taking steps to protect its coastline. As Fujairah develops into a regional and global oil storage hub, the UAE government is devising the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan. This is being implemented by the Ministry of Environment and will provide clear guidance on who is responsible for what during the event of an oil spill.

Many analysts believe that global oil and gas firms previously fostered a culture of secrecy around HSE issues and were used to trying to keep them out of the public eye. However, companies are now beginning to understand that it behoves upon them to be more open about their HSE records.

“Misconceptions exist worldwide regarding the value of accurate HSE reporting where the primary cause is a lack of understanding and appreciation of the key role it plays in identifying risk areas and improving performance. HSE standards can only advance when we understand what gaps currently exist and devise mechanisms to improve them.

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