UNOPS

Voices: Building a health and safety culture

"If UNOPS left Palestine tomorrow, I would be able to say we have really made a difference to the way infrastructure is managed here – and improved the lives of my fellow construction workers." - Jiries Awad, UNOPS Project Engineer

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​"When I was starting at UNOPS, my boss said he wanted all our construction sites in Palestine to follow internationally-recognized health and safety rules. I am Palestinian so I know how construction is usually done here – with people coming to work in flip-flops. How would we ever get them to wear full protective equipment? We knew we had to change people's way of thinking.

"We decided to take a step-by-step approach to help the workers follow occupational health and safety guidelines. First we made it a rule, and we built that rule into our contracts. But rules alone are never enough. You need to give people the tools and the desire to follow them. So we started supplying our workers with hard hats, reflective vests and safety boots because no one had their own. We helped them check the safety of their tools and equipment.

"Then we began holding regular 'tool box talks', where we gather all the workers together to identify potential hazards and explain the best way to complete a new activity before the work begins.

"In one of our recent tool box talks, an experienced labourer stood in front of everyone and said: 'This is the first site I have worked on where the management are not only keen to finish the work, but also want to help us do our job well and go back to our families safe.' I knew then that our efforts were starting to make a difference. This was a good day at work for me.

"Contractors now are coming to our sites wearing their safety helmets and vests as well as conducting weekly site safety inspections. No major or high risk activity goes ahead without a risk assessment and a method statement explaining how the activity will be done. We have got rid of the dangerous wooden platforms that local contractors used in the past and replaced them with approved scaffolding. These changes also lead to a higher quality of building and a better finished product for the Palestinian people.

"UNOPS has gained a great reputation in Palestine for our strict, controlled and internationally-recognized health and safety regulations on site and I am proud of our record on health and safety. If UNOPS left Palestine tomorrow, I would be able to say we have really made a difference to the way infrastructure is managed here – and improved the lives of my fellow construction workers."