Occupation and Health in Saudi Arabia

Abstract

Occupational health and safety are emerging as an important social issue in Saudi Arabia. In this report, the researcher was interested in analysing the status of this issue, with the aim of determining how health and safety of the workers in this country can be protected. The study relied on secondary data sources. The report reveals that preventing occupational and environmental risks may be viewed as a costly and sometimes complex task at first, but when done in the right way, it is very beneficial not to the employees and their families only but also to the government.

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With reduced cases of accidents, companies will achieve full productivity of their employees as cases of sick leaves will be reduced, the government will benefit by having a healthcare sector that is not placed under undue pressure. With a manageable number of patients, the healthcare sector can offer improved services to the nation. It is in the interest of all stakeholders to ensure that occupational accidents are eliminated or kept to a bare minimum. The stakeholders must ensure that in case of an accident, there are systems and structures that employees can use to protect themselves to avoid sustaining serious injuries or even death.

Background

Brief History of Occupational Health Globally and Locally

Occupational health, also known as workplace health, refers to the identification and control of all forms of risks and hazards in the workplace environment (Khasawneh, 2014). Employees are often exposed to different forms of risks depending on the nature of their occupation. Some professions are likely to expose employees to physical, emotional, or mental problems. According to a study by Crane and Matten (2016), occupational health is an issue that was not given proper emphasis during the industrial revolution in Europe.

Employees would sustain serious physical injuries while others would die, but little attention was paid to address the problem. Cases where employees would be exposed to poisonous chemical substances became common, but the focus of the employers was to increase the output irrespective of the consequences the processes had on the employees.

Governments in the industrialising countries paid more attention to improving productions than on the safety and health of employees. However, through regular industrial actions in various countries, stakeholders started giving attention to the issue. It became apparent that when employees are exposed to various occupational risks, the government and company get affected. When a firm loses an experienced employee due to physical, chemical, or psychological problems arising from the workplace, it may take long before finding a replacement.

The company will experience a reduction in productivity during the time when the employee is allowed to spend some time away from work in order to recover. On the side of the government, increased cases of workplace injuries created pressure on the medical personnel and facilities. Governments were spending more on healthcare because of the massive industrialisation strategies that gave little attention to the need to protect employees when they are at work.

Europe and North America took the leading roles to come up with ways of enhancing occupational safety. According to Ullah, Hossasin, and Islam (2015), early efforts to ensure that employers themselves protected their employees through their own initiatives did not work in Europe. This is so because the employers would promise to take corrective actions but failed to do so because their primary focus was to make profits. The government realised that it had to come up with policies that would regulate the nature of the workplace environment as a way of protecting employees from preventable injuries.

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Initially, occupational health and safety primarily focused on physical injuries and exposure to chemical substances that may cause various diseases. However, it became apparent that massive amounts of stress were also a major problem in the workplace that had been ignored for a long time. The United States has enacted laws and regulations that strictly define the nature of the workplace and how employers should protect their employees from various risks depending on the working environment (Alamri, 2015). Germany is another country with strict laws in relation to occupational health and safety. The laws define the dress code, headgear, footwear, gloves, special clothing, and special eyeglasses, depending on the nature of the workplace environment.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the oil and gas industry is the backbone of the economy. Many people are employed in the oil extraction fields, transportation, processing, and storage facilities. These employees are exposed to serious threats of chemical poisoning and physical injuries caused by the possible fire outbreaks or falling objects in the plants. The government and stakeholders in this and the industry have made concerted efforts to ensure that employees are protected. The government has also enacted laws to protect its employees in other industries of possible physical, chemical, or psychological injuries that may be sustained in the workplace.

Khasawneh (2014) says that the main problem experienced locally in Saudi Arabia is the implementation of these laws. Looking at the history of this problem, one can attest to the major strides that the country has made towards having a safe work environment in Saudi Arabia. However, studies show that a lot remains to be done, especially in terms of implementation of the existing laws. Cases where employees die while at work or sustain serious injuries are still common in the country. Some of them are reported while a number are never brought to public attention. As the leading economy in the Middle East that is keen on achieving the level of developments in North America and Europe, stakeholders must ensure that the issue of occupational health and safety is given priority.

Scientific Background Information

The immune system of the body is capable of identifying pathogens and fighting them to protect the body from these disease-causing microorganisms. However, exposure to some chemical substances may compromise the immune system or expose it to substances, which it cannot eliminate through natural body processes. Sometimes one is exposed to physical or psychological hazards, which are beyond the capacity of the immune system.

The problem may be excessive stress that may trigger the release of various body juices that can lead to diseases such as ulcers or even cancer. In some cases, it may be a physical injury that may lead to loss of body parts such as legs, arms, eye, among others. Loss of life is also common when one is exposed to dangerous chemicals or physically injured. The workplace environment has always exposed employees to a varying degree of risks. Some of the risks faced by lawyers, such as high levels of stress as they try to meet the set deadlines, may take a long time before their real effects are felt hence they are sometimes ignored. Others have a serious instant impact such as physical injury or exposure to poisonous chemicals. Irrespective of the nature of hazard that an employee is exposed to, it is necessary to find ways of eliminating them before they can cause psychological or physical injuries.

Major Occupations Associated with Health Effects

According to Khasawneh (2014), different occupations expose employees to different health hazards. Some occupations are more hazardous than others are. Occupations in the mining industry are considered some of the riskiest. In the oil and gas industry, employees are constantly exposed to chemical pollution during extraction, processing, transportation, and storage of the product. One of the biggest hazards for those working in the oil and gas industry is a possible outbreak of fire.

Irrespective of how the employees may be prepared to deal with fire, it is always difficult to eliminate death or serious burns in cases of fire breakouts. A good example is the BP Deepwater Horizon accident that happened on April 20, 2010 (Alamri, 2015). The team was well equipped, but when the accident occurred, lives were lost. During oil extractions, the machines and equipments used also pose a serious physical threat to employees, especially if they become faulty or when the user is less experienced in handling them. Death can easily occur if they are not properly handled.

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Workers mining precious metals such as gold and diamond often go several meters deep into the ground for several hours. Cases where the mines collapse killing everyone inside have been reported South Africa, Morocco, and many other parts of the world. Being buried alive is one of the most painful deaths. The land mines they use also expose them to noise pollution that may affect their hearing and possible physical injury that can be sustained due to the flying objects.

The transport sector also exposes employees to various forms of health hazards. Drivers of large tankers and trucks that have to travel from one part of the country to another are always in constant risk of a road accident. The accident may be caused by other reckless road users, malfunction of the vehicles, or mistakes that they commit because of fatigue after covering long distances. Such accidents often result in loss of lives or serious life-changing injuries. For those transporting highly flammable materials, there is always the fear of a possible fire breakout while they are on the road. In November 2012, a fuel tanker in the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, exploded while on the highway. It caused massive damage to structures and buildings to close by. It was reported that 22 people died, including the driver and occupants of the tanker, while over 135 people sustained injuries (Fareed, 2017). The figure below shows the aftermath of the explosion.

Aftermath of a tanker explosion.
Figure 1: Aftermath of a tanker explosion.

The accident is a clear demonstration of occupational hazard that drivers constantly expose themselves to while on the highways. The construction industry also poses its employees to various health hazards that may have a serious impact. According to Crane and Matten (2016), cement dust is very poisonous, and when inhaled for a long time, it may expose one to poisonous substances such as particulate matter. These chemical substances may cause cancer, respiratory problems, coronary complications, and many other health problems. At the construction sites, falling objects may be fatal.

Cases have also been reported where buildings collapse while it is in the progress of construction, killing the workers and injuring others. Employees working in hospitals are not spared of occupational risks. Doctors and nurses handling patients suffering from communicable diseases may also contract the disease even when they wear protective gear. A small mistake on made by doctors handling patients who are HIV positive may have life-changing consequences, especially if it happens without their knowledge and they fail to take safety precaution. As Crane and Matten (2016) says, almost every occupation has risks associated with it. The concept of occupational health and safety, therefore, applies in various fields. The statistics below show some of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.

Dangerous jobs in the United States.
Figure 2: Dangerous jobs in the United States.

It is important to note that fatalities of different jobs vary from one country to another. For instance, the statistics above show that logging workers are at the highest risk of sustaining fatal injuries while at work. In fact, the risk they face is three times more likely to occur than those in the mining industry are. On the other, McCulloch (2012) says that the risk faced by miners in South Africa is ten times more likely to die than those in the logging industry are. This is so because a country such as the United States has been able to put in place proper measures to protect employees in the mining industry. Fishermen in the United States are also facing great occupational risks because of because of the extreme and dangerous adventures often involved that make the process more of a sport than the actual fishing process.

Comparing the Prevalence of the Problem in Developed and Developed Countries

According to Crane and Matten (2016), a precise comparison of the prevalence of occupational accidents between the developed and developing countries is hard to come by because of a number of reasons. The first reason is lack of proper data in the developing countries. There is always an effort by the governments in the developing countries to hide the true statistics of deaths whenever major accidents occur.

Khasawneh (2014) says that this is common because of the constant need to portray a positive image to the local and international community. Some of the minor cases where one or two people die because of work-related accidents never go into the government statistics. Police officers in some parts of the developing economies such as in Iraq die very often, but precise data about it is very scanty (Alamri, 2015). In Africa, soldiers sent to keep peace in Somalia and South Sudan have died in large numbers but the respective governments in the African countries who lose their personnel in this volatile regions rarely keep such statistics.

The other problem that makes it difficult to track the statistics is that sometimes one may not even realise that a health problem he or she is suffering from is as a direct result of the occupation. Miners in South Africa have often complained about respiratory problems and some of them even succumb to these conditions. However, in the government records nothing is often mentioned about the occupations of such individuals that may have resulted into their demise. As such, it may not be statistically possible to come up with a precise comparison of the prevalence of the problem in the developed and developing countries. However, one can estimate the prevalence based on the cases that are often recorded when major incidents that cannot be concealed by the government occur.

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According to Alamri (2015), developed countries have done a lot to enhance safety of employees when they are at work. The first step towards protecting the lives and health of employees is to enact laws that define the workplace environment. The United States of America and the United Kingdom are known to have very strict rules concerning occupational health and safety. Before a company is registered to start its operations, one of the most important factors that officers inspect is safety of employees.

Relevant government departments in these developed countries often conduct inspection of the workplace environment to determine whether the policies and regulations are observed. When any violations are detected, punitive measures are often taken against the companies, making them keen on following the set regulations. In case an employee sustains injuries or dies while at work because of the violation of occupational health and safety laws, the legal system is often functional and such companies often pay a lot to compensate the affected victims or their families. These are genuine forces, which leave the employers with no other option but to ensure that their employees are safe.

In the developing countries, a number of weaknesses emerge in policy implementation that creates loopholes at the expense of workers’ health and sometimes lives. The developed countries, just like the developed nations, have enacted laws meant to protect their employees in the workplace. However, there is a major issue that often arises when enacting these laws and regulations. According to Alamri (2015), more often than not, the developed countries heavily borrow the laws and regulations set up by the developing economies. Little or no research is often conducted locally to understand the local problems and solutions available to the local players. In so doing, policies are enacted that cannot be properly practices in these developing nations because of the incompatibility of the systems and structures of the developed and developing economies.

McCulloch (2012) says that once these laws are enacted, they are rarely implemented. When one is registering a company in a country such as Nigeria, the most important thing is to be capable and willing to pay the bribe. When it comes to supervision, the officers on the ground who come to do the work are often interested in getting the bribe. When an accident occurs as a result of failure by the employer to follow the set laws, nothing is often done to make them face the law (McCulloch, 2012).

This is partly because the employees do not understand their rights and do not even know that they can sue the employer. For those who get to take their employers to court, justice is rarely served because it is always bought. The financial power of the companies means that they can always get away with their mistakes when they are taken to court. It means that the employers lack the drive to observe occupational health and safety laws. That is why occupational deaths in countries in Africa and parts of Asia remain very high.

The infrastructural developments in developed economies and that of developing economies are very different. Fully equipped hospitals, near adequate number of healthcare officers, improved roads and rail networks, functioning hotlines for emergencies, and empowered public in the developed countries make it easy to respond to cases of occupational accidents. In the city of Melbourne, Australia, it will take less than 30 minutes for a person who is bitten by a snake to be hospitalized and put under proper medication because of efficient communication systems, functioning transport system, and experts who are always ready to respond to such emergencies. Such efficiency is replicated in other modern cities around the world, in developed economies such as in Germany, Spain, and Sweden.

On the other side of the world in Nairobi, Kenya, emergency hotlines do not function so one has to make personal arrangements to rush to hospital (The Isosceles Group, 2014). Such personal efforts are often thwarted by poor road infrastructure and traffic jams that make it difficult to reach the hospitals. It makes take several hours to take a patient to hospital that is less than twenty kilometres away. Once in hospital, the next problem is to get attention of the doctors. Most of the public hospitals are overstretched and it may take a while for the patient to be seen by a doctor. Another major odd is that in some cases a patient is told that the facility lacks the medicine needed.

The same problem is common in the developing countries in African and parts of Asia. Comparing the two regions, it is easy for one who has sustained a major injury while at work to survive in developed economies than in developing economies. Although statistics may not be there to corroborate the arguments made by these scholars, the level of infrastructure in the two countries shows clearly that there is significant difference. According to Khasawneh (2014), the incidences of occupational accidents per 100,000 people are more prevalent in the developing countries than in the developed countries.

Analysis of the Problem in the National Level

Introduction of Occupational Health in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

According to a report by Crane and Matten (2016), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made important milestones in enhancing occupational health and safety of employees working in various sectors of the economy. Over the past one decade, a number of accidents have been reported in the oil and gas industry at the extraction, processing, or transport points. However, the Ministry of Labour and other related ministries have made genuine effort to ensure that such cases are reduced to a bare minimum. The economy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia still relies heavily on oil and gas exports.

Activities involved in extraction, processing, and transporting the petroleum products entails encountering countless dangers. Irrespective of the stage, one of the biggest threats that workers in this industry face is a possible fire outbreak. It can occur at any time and sometimes the impact can be devastating. Workers have lost their lives in this industry because of fire and other related accidents.

There is also the problem of chemical poisoning when workers are forced to spend most of their time in environments where air is saturated with oil particles. Occupational health and safety in other sectors of the economy has also been an issue and that is why the ministry came up with policies and regulations to ensure that workers are protected. It is important to look at some of the past and present issues, which have forced the government to rethink its policies in relation to occupational health and safety.

Past and Present Issues and Incidences

According to Khasawneh (2014), one of the main problems in Saudi Arabia when it comes to occupational health and safety is that stakeholders are always reactive instead of being proactive. When nothing has happened, little is often done and said about safety of workers in various sectors of the economy. However, when disaster strikes, the nation reacts immediately. Trade unions come out strongly to blame the government and demand for actions to be taken against employers who fail to observe protect the employees.

On the other hand, the government would blame contractors for failing to observe the set policies and regulations regarding occupational health and safety of the employees. The contractors would blame poor infrastructure, limited knowledge of the employees, or unwillingness of the employees to follow the regulations set by the management. The blame game often continues as long as the issue remains fresh in the minds of the public. However, as the memory fades, everything goes back to normal and the violations of the set laws become common.

As O’Kane (2014) says, the society needs to be proactive. Instead of waiting for major accidents to act, it is necessary for the stakeholders to take actions well in advance to avert catastrophic events that can be prevented. The government must be ready to understand enact laws and ensure that the relevant bodies and companies within the country follow them. The ministry of labour, through relevant departments, should make regular follow-ups to ensure that these policies are observed (The Isosceles Group, 2014). However, currently little has been done to ensure that workers are protected from exposure to various types of chemical and biological substances or radiations that may have significant impact on their health. The following are some of the two industries where workers face major security concerns.

Construction industry

The construction industry is currently the most dangerous sector for the employees in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Several deaths and serious injuries are often recorded almost on a yearly basis. The industry has been booming over the past decades and workers have been coming from other foreign countries to work in this industry. Specialists come from North America, Europe, and East Asia while casual workers come from India, Pakistan, and parts of the developing economies. Many of these workers have lost their lives while at work because of the poor workplace environment. The Mecca crane collapse is a perfect case study of the occupational health and safety violation in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Binladen Group was the construction company that was assigned the project of expanding Masjid al-Haram Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca.

On September 11, 2015, one of the large cranes that was in use during the construction collapsed on the mosque. It is reported that the accident caused 111 deaths and 394 non-fatal injuries. According to Kadasah (2015), this accident is the worst crane accident in the world in the recent history. Although the contractor and engineers involved in the project blamed extreme weather for the collapse, experts blamed the contractor for failure to observe occupational health and safety procedures. The accident grabbed the attention of the global community majorly because it killed and injured so many people who were preparing for Hajj pilgrimage.

It clearly demonstrated, not just to the Saudi society but also to the entire world the major flaws and weaknesses in occupational health and safety practices in the country. People from other parts of the world, most of who were not working at the site, became victims of poor policies and practices common in the booming construction sector. The government promised to investigate and take appropriate corrective measures, but little has happened since then.

Petrochemical industry

The petrochemical industry plays a critical role in the economy of Saudi Arabia. The country has hired many local and foreign workers in various subsectors of this industry. The Saudi Aramco Company is the largest company that is involved in the extraction, processing, and sale of oil in the local and international market. The company has made efforts in the recent past to ensure that safety of its employees is given priority. However, the Haradh gas pipeline explosion remains a dark history in its operations. On the midnight of November 18, 2008, the gas pipeline exploded at Heradh, which resulted in massive fire. The events that followed clearly demonstrated that the firm had not previously anticipated such a magnitude of explosion and was ill prepared to deal with it.

A report by Kadasah (2015) shows that employees who were at work on that fateful night were completely shocked by the incident and did not know how to deal with the situation. The official death toll from that single accident was officially determined to be 34, although some reports indicate that the number might have been higher than that. Only three of the deceased could be identified. The fire charred the other 30 employees of Saudi Aramco beyond recognition. Only ten of the employees who were at work that night was able to escape with their lives, but some of them sustained life-changing injuries.

Although the investigation revealed that, the event was purely an accident and that it was not a deliberate work of extremists, what many people considered worrying was the death toll. A company that is handling such dangerous products should be prepared for such an eventuality. As such, measures should have been put in place to protect employees by ensuring that they are properly trained to deal with such situations when they arise. They should also have proper instruments that they can use and infrastructure that can facilitate fighting fire or preventing loss or lives.

Level of the Problem

It is clear that occupational health and safety of workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a major concern that the stakeholders must continue to find ways of addressing. The Ministry of Labour should be keen on understanding the statistics to and work on them as a way of enhancing the workplace in the country. According to a report by Khasawneh (2014), over 85% of the occupational injuries in Saudi Arabia in 2015 took place in the construction, downstream, and trade sectors of the economy. It means that these three are the most dangerous sectors of the economy for Saudi workers.

In the construction sector, 7,179 injuries were reported in 2015, a clear indication that it poses serious risks to the employees. The country’s infrastructure is developing very fast. New roads are being constructed while the existing ones are improved to meet the global standards. The rail sector is also being modernised. The real estate is also developing very fast. However, these developmental projects are causing lives of many people while others are sustaining serious injuries.

According to Kadasah (2015), Riyadh and Mecca are two main cities that have registered the highest number of workplace injuries. It is also in the two cities that the largest infrastructural developments have been registered. As the country develops, it is important to ensure that it does not come at greater cost to workers. Despite the grim statistics, it is important to note that massive improvements have been registered in terms of reduction of the accidents in the country.

The mining and petroleum sector was once one of the riskiest industries for the employees. However, the efforts put in place by the government and other stakeholders have bore fruits. Saudi Aramco Company, which is the leading oil and gas company in Saudi Arabia, registered a 44% reduction in injuries sustained by its employees. The industry only recorded 265 injuries in 2015, which is a massive drop compared with the statistics of the previous years (Kadasah, 2015). The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia still has the highest recorded injuries in the oil and gas sector.

Public Health Relevance

In the Saudi the 2016 Saudi budget, the figures for the Health and Social Development was put at $32.1bn (Burton, 2016). The expenditure in the ministry has been going up over the years for both positive and negative reasons. The sector has witnessed massive development over the recent past with expansion of major hospitals to meet the increasing needs of medical services because of the growing population.

However, the demand for the medical services has been going up because of issues related with workplace accidents. The construction sector still has a record high number of accidents as the housing and infrastructure sectors continue to boom in this country. The public health sector cannot continue to ignore this issue because many people who are taken to hospital may recover, but they may not continue to work because of the nature of injuries they sustain. The victims of workplace accidents are forced to rely on the support of family and friends to survive. They become a burden to the society as their productivity is sometimes completely wiped out, especially when they become incapacitated.

The increasing number of workplace accidents put massive pressure on the healthcare facilities and personnel. It forces the government to invest more in this sector of the economy. The problem is that those for whom the facilities are expanded may not be capable of playing a critical role in boosting the economy of the country. Some of the diseases that workers acquire often cost them and the government many financial resources to manage.

According to Khasawneh (2014), although the country is still one of the top producers and exporters of oil and gas in the world, the stakeholders have been trying to diversify the economy. One of the areas that the country should focus on is tourism, as some of the neighbouring countries have done. Being home to holy cities of Mecca and Medina, tourism can flourish in this country. However, the statistics about workplace accidents is giving this country a wrong image at global level. Public health sector plays a critical role in attracting investors from foreign countries. Some of these investors may develop fear due to the statistics of occupational injuries and fatalities.

It can be interpreted as being a weakness in the government to enact and enforce polices in this sector. Some of the specialist doctors working in the country come from foreign nations. They play a critical role in filling the gap that previously existed in this country. However, when the country’s image is tainted as one that is not keen on protecting employees in the workplace, it becomes difficult to attract such professionals from foreign countries.

The issue of occupational health and safety is very relevant to public health. If enough is not done, then efforts by the government to promote eco-tourism may not bear fruits. The top medical experts from various countries will not consider this country a safe place to work. It is also possible that the current medical staff in the country, especially those from foreign countries, will consider moving to neighbouring countries where they feel their safety at work will be considered an issue of priority.

Occupational Diseases and Health Problems

According to a report by Kadasah (2015), occupational diseases and health problems are many, but in most of the cases, the affected individuals do not realise that they are caused by the nature of their work. As the government of Saudi Arabia, through the relevant ministries and departments, try to address the issue of occupational health and safety, it is important to outline some of the common occupational health diseases that affect majority of the workers in the country. Identifying these diseases will be a step towards coming up with sustainable solutions. The following are some of the common occupational diseases in the country:

Respiratory diseases

Respiratory diseases are very common among workers in the construction, transport, and petrochemical industries. Asbestosis is a respiratory problem that is associated with exposure to asbestos. Those working in the construction and mining industries are often likely to acquire the diseases because of the materials they use at work. Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis and silicosis are also common among workers in the petrochemical industry. According to Crane and Matten (2016), occupational asthma is also becoming a common disease among people who work in environments where they are constantly exposed to air polluted by petroleum products. The magnitude of respiratory diseases may vary depending on the level and time of exposure.

Skin diseases

The skin is a very delicate organ and when exposed to dangerous chemicals, it may be affected in various ways. Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is one of the most common skin diseases that is often characterised by inflammation and the skin becomes thickened (O’Kane, 2014). The main cause of the disease is when the skin is exposed to poisonous or allergic substances. Hives, sometimes referred to as urticaria, is another common skin disease that causes skin rash and itchy bumps. It is often caused by exposure to chemicals. Atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis are also common among construction workers. Direct burns from acidic substances or fire breakout may have far-reaching consequences on the skin. Physical cuts or serious bruises may also have negative impact on the skin.

Coronary diseases

According to O’Kane (2014), employees who work in highly stressful environments are likely to develop coronary diseases. Problems such as high blood pressure are common among those whose work are very demanding or those who are constantly abused by the superiors. They always have the pressure to meet specific targets or to avoid rebuke from superiors. When an employee is exposed to contaminants at work through the skin, inhalation, or ingestion, the poison may find its way to the blood and consequently to the heart. Depending on the nature of the poison, the heart may be affected in various ways.

Cancer

According to Crane and Matten (2016), exposure to carcinogenic substances at work may cause cancer. In the manufacturing sector, those who work in the plastic industry may easily develop cancerious cells on skin or internal border organs because of the constant exposure to dangerous chemicals. Those in the petrochemical industry may also face the same problems because of long hours breathing contaminated air.

Visual problems

Working who are constantly, exposed flashing bright lights, according to O’Kane (2014), can with time developing visual problems. In such environments, they are expected to wear special eyeglasses that can protect them from the constant exposure to excessive amounts of light. Failing to have such protecting gear may expose one to various visual problems. Exposure to dangerous chemicals may also have significant impact on the eye. A drop or a splash of some of the chemicals available in the workplace environment may impair one’s vision or even cause complete blindness.

Hearing loss

Prolonged exposure to loud sounds may cause hearing problems. Workers in the construction sector are often exposed to abnormal levels of sound pollution. The problem is also common in the industrial sector. Employees are required to have protecting gear when they are working in environments where noise pollution is common. Without the use of these protective gears, one can easily develop hearing problems.

Nervous disorder

Nervous breakdown is an occupational health problem that may occur when one is exposed to poisonous substances that affect the nervous system. Crane and Matten (2016) also notes that those who work in highly stressful workplaces may develop nervous problems with time, especially when they become paranoid about meeting targets or avoiding reprimand from abusive bosses. Some physically demanding assignments may also cause nervous problems.

Reproductive disorders

Studies suggest that reproductive disorders are sometimes associated with one’s occupation. Men who spend most of their time seated in environments with relatively high temperatures such as drivers and machine operators may develop reproductive disorders with time. The excessive heat is known to affect sperm production. Some radiations and exposure to chemicals may also affect the fertility of a man or a woman.

Methods for Assessing and Preventing Occupational and Environmental Risks

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is currently the leading economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The government has invested many resources in infrastructure and other sectors of the economy to help reduce the countries overreliance on oil and gas industry. The fruits of the effort made by the government to diversify the economy are evident in the tourism industry that is growing very rapidly.

According to Khasawneh (2014), Saudi Arabia receives millions of visitors every year that come for the pilgrimage in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The agricultural sector has also registered impressive performance as stakeholders try to make the country food secure despite the irregular and unreliable patterns of rainfall. In the midst of these positive developmental records, the country’s workers are not safe in various sectors of the economy. Occupational injuries and deaths are still common in this country. According to a report by Khasawneh (2014), the country has been relying on foreign employees to work in various sectors of the economy.

Some of these foreign workers (skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled) have met their deaths while working in this country. Such a negative global image must be eliminated. The government and all the related stakeholders must commit to fighting violation of policies relating to occupational health and safety. Employees must be genuinely protected from various dangers that may have significant impact on their health or life. It should all start with the government as one of the leading employers, a policy maker, and enforcer. In this section, the study will focus on some of the possible methods assessing risks and possible ways of managing them to protect Saudi workers.

How to Assess Risks

It is important to assess the occupational risks with the view of finding a lasting solution to some of the common workplace injuries and deaths within the country. According to Kadasah (2015), the government and the responsible organisations can do assessing of the occupational risks. The assessment done by the individual organisations is very important because it enables these entities to identify specific risks that their employees face to help them come up with measures of managing them. The assessment done by the government is meant to facilitate policy formulation and enforcement of the law relating to occupational health and safety. The organisation-based risk assessment should be done in the five steps proposed below:

Risk identification

An organisation should start by identifying specific threats that their employees are exposed to in the workplace. For instance, Saudi Aramco Trading Company should assess the dangers their employees are exposed to while working in various departments within the firm. The best way is to start by identifying the individual departments within the firm and outline risks employees in these departments are exposed to.

Those who work in the extraction of oil may be exposed to chemical poisoning, noise and air pollution, or a possible explosion such as the one that was witnessed in the BP’s Deepwater Horizon. Workers in the transport sector may be exposed to possible road or sea accidents and a possible explosion of the fuel, which is on transit. The security officers face a constant threat of a possible violent attack by criminals who may be interested in stealing from the firm. Outlining these risks department by department makes it easy to come up with specific solutions, which are department-based. Kadasah (2015) says that risks should be identified in clear terms and the magnitude clearly stated if possible so that the firm can understand what it is dealing with.

Determining potential victims

The second step is to identify the potential victims who may be affected by the risks outlined in the first step above. For every risk identified, there must be workers who can be affected by it directly or indirectly. When a risk of possible fire outbreak is identified, then in this stage those who can be potentially affected by the fire should be identified. This stage is very important because it makes it possible for an organisation to have a perfect way of protecting employees in their respective environments. Some of the programmes may involve empowering the employees to deal with the threats. That can only be done if it is clear the nature of threats that each worker is exposed to in the company.

Estimation of occupational risk

A firm would be expected to go a step further in assessing the risks by estimating the occupational risks that may arise from the threats identified in the first step above. When a risk of potential fire outbreak is identified, the company must estimate the magnitude of the threat.

For instance, a fire outbreak in an office that is away from the premises where inflammable products are may not be as significant as a possible explosion in the storage deports or pipelines of the Saudi Aramco Company. The kind of training needed for the employees working at such secure officers and employees working at the processing, storage, or transport departments are very different. Estimation of the risks also makes it possible for the management to know the kind of investment needed to combat possible threats in each of these departments.

Documenting the outcome

This state involves detailed documentation of the outcomes of the activities in the sections above. The team tasked with the responsibility of assessing the risks should document their outcome. In their document, risks per each department within the organisation should be clearly identified, stating the magnitude of each of the risks. The potential victims in each of the departments should also be outlined in the report. The report will inform the internal policies that will define how workers at the company will be protected from any possible occupational risks. The document should be handed over to the relevant authorities within the firm for necessary actions to be taken. The documentation is done during the assessment process to ensure that important details are not left out.

Periodical re-assessment of the risks

It is important to appreciate that the risks may change from time to time depending on the environmental changes within the organisation. As new infrastructures are put in place to enhance security of the workers within the firm, some risks are eliminated, others become less significant, while possible new ones may arise. As the company expands, new risks may emerge while others that were previously considered minor may have significant impact on the employees.

The dynamism in both the internal and external environment of a firm means that the risks they face often very. As such, it is necessary to have re-assessments of the risks done regularly to capture the possible changes so that the firm can come up with ways of maintaining safety and security of the employees at all times. The government also has a responsibility to assess the risks that workers within the country face as they work in various sectors of the economy.

Methods of Managing Risks and Preventing/Reducing Exposure

The occupational risks must be managed within the country to ensure that employees and offered a safe workplace environment where they can work without fear. As shown in this paper, it is in the interest of the government, employers, and the employees to ensure occupational risks are eliminated and those that are unavoidable, their magnitude and impact on employees should be managed as must as possible. Each of the three stakeholders is directly impacted when the risks occur. The multi-stakeholder approach of managing these risks will be based on these stakeholders. They must play a leading role to secure the workplace environment as discussed below.

Government

The government of Saudi Arabia is responsible for enacting and enforcing policies relating to occupational health and safety. It should be committed to ensuring that its policies and regulations are based on a comprehensive assessment of the actual forces in the country’s workplace environment. Policies enacted in other countries, however good they are, may not be relevant in the local context. It must have laws and regulations that are practical in the local Saudi context. After enacting these laws, the employers should be informed of the new regulations. The enforcement authorities should make regular impromptu visits in various companies within the country to determine if they are observing the law relating to occupational safety. Punitive measures should be taken against the violators.

Employer

The employers in the country must learn to protect the employees. They must assess the occupational risks that their employees face and then come up with measures of curbing them. The infrastructure needed to protect workers, training needed to empower them, and instruments necessary for fighting the threats should all be provided. Protecting clothing and headgears should always be available for the employees. Whenever a major risk is detected, employers should consider contacting the government early enough so that corrective measures can be taken to enhance safety of the workers. The employers should also set internal policies of what employees should do or avoid when they are within the firm to enhance their own safety.

Employee

The employees have a major role to play in ensuring that they are safe when working in different environment. According to Khasawneh (2014), employees must ensure that they follow the safety guidelines when they are at work. They should always have the protective gear as stated in the company policies whenever they are undertaking their official duties. They should avoid experimenting, especially when handling machines or products that may pose danger to them and their colleagues. Whenever something is unclear when handling various tasks, it is their noble duty to consult so that they do not make mistakes unknowingly. When they detect any risks at workplace, they should report immediately to the management. When the management fails to act accordingly, they should boycott working in dangerous sites and seek the help of external forces such as trade unions or courts to compel the employer to address their safety concerns.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has registered impressive economic developments over the recent past. However, the issue of occupational health and safety is yet to be treated with the seriousness it deserves. Recent reports show that deaths and serious injuries in the Saudi workplace environment are still common, especially in the construction industry. Employers are not keen on ensuring that their employees remain protected at all times when they are at work.

Some of the deaths and serious injuries occur basically because the stakeholders fail to follow the law such as wearing the right protective gear. Others are more serious such as major fires and falling of the cranes on people because the employers have become relaxed and are not keen on protecting their employees’ health and lives. The negative trend must change as the stakeholders try to diversify the economy and reduce overreliance on oil and gas industries.

The construction sector is playing a critical role in promoting diversification in Saudi Arabia where trade and tourism will become the major pillars of the country’s economy. However, it should not be done at the expense of lives and health of people. When many people are incapacitated because of chemical poisoning or physical injuries sustained in the workplace, they become a burden to their families and to the government. The government will have to spend more on their health in terms of increasing the healthcare facilities and personnel. Although employers and employees should have a role to play in enhancing occupational health and safety, the buck stops with the government. The following recommendations should be taken into consideration by the government:

  • The Ministry of Labour should conduct comprehensive analysis on the workplace environment in Saudi Arabia and the forces that pose serious threats to the workers;
  • The government should then enact laws, borrowing from the best practices all over the world, which will address the specific problems identified in the local workplace environment;
  • The employers should be regularly updated whenever a new policy regarding occupational health and safety is enacted;
  • The government should conduct regular inspection of the companies within the country to determine if they follow the law and policies regarding occupational health and safety.
  • Punitive measures should be taken against companies that do not follow the law to demonstrate to them that government is keen on protecting the workers in the country.

References

  1. Khasawneh, A. (2014). Improving occupational health and workplace safety in Saudi Arabia. International Journal of Development and Sustainability, 3(2), 261-267.
  2. Crane, A., & Matten, D. (2016). Business ethics: Managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  3. Ullah, A., Hossasin, M., & Islam, K. (2015). Migration and worker fatalities abroad. London, UK: Palgrave.
  4. Alamri, Y. (2015). Emergency management in Saudi Arabia: Past, present and future. Christchurch, New Zealand: Van der Veer Research Institute.
  5. McCulloch, J. (2012). South Africa’s gold mines & the politics of silicosis. Cape Town, South Africa: McMillan.
  6. The Isosceles Group. (2014). Saudi Arabia environment, health & safety profile and checklist. ESH Audit Protocol, 21(9), 1-25.
  7. O’Kane, M. (2014). Saudi Arabia labour law outline. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Publishers.
  8. Kadasah, N. (2015). An assessment of the occupational health and safety environment among organizations on the light of OHSAS 18001: The case of Saudi Arabia. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 6(4), 98-105.
  9. Burton, E. (2016). Business and entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia: Opportunities for partnering and investing in emerging businesses. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
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StudyCorgi. (2020, November 12). Occupation and Health in Saudi Arabia. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/occupation-and-health-in-saudi-arabia/

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StudyCorgi. "Occupation and Health in Saudi Arabia." November 12, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/occupation-and-health-in-saudi-arabia/.

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "Occupation and Health in Saudi Arabia." November 12, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/occupation-and-health-in-saudi-arabia/.

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