Evolution of PPE and worker safety in the Middle East
Dated: 23-01-2020

 By Samiya Andrabi

Ten years ago, it was very common to see cleaners working at a height without any proper safety harness or appropriate scaffolding in place. It was also common to clean without appropriate gloves, masks and any other equipment, which would ensure that the cleaner was not harmed. All seemed well as long as businesses were in profit, but was it really?

Would you consider it ‘normal’ if your cleaning staff used standard dust masks instead of chemical masks while working in a chemical industrial plant or wearing the wrong ear protectors when working in areas of extreme noise. Would you compromise on their health?

The problem wasn’t just with the business owners, it was with the cleaners too. In this region specifically, the majority of the cleaning staff was made up of expats, many of whom did not understand the importance of wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Many labourers would cite heat as a reason to not wear appropriate PPE, not understanding that it would have an adverse impact on their own health.

The new wave of awareness

Recent developments in occupational health have led to certain stringent regulations from the governments. Having come from the authorities, they have helped drive positive changes in how companies and their cleaning staff view the importance of PPE and worker safety in particular. People are now becoming increasingly aware about the hazards of being exposed to concentrated chemicals, dangerous equipment and cleaning machinery.

This new wave of awareness is facilitated with government regulations and media support. Many government organisations and MNCs operating out of the UAE are powering their own progress through certification to the latest international OHS standard. Having this certification means that the organization has transformed any uncontrolled hazards into controlled risks and successfully safeguarded the wellbeing of both employees and business.

The growing sectors of construction, tourism and oil industries also lead the Middle East to consider the innovations in PPE. And the last, but not least, business owners have come to the conclusion that safety directly affects the productivity of an employee in the long and short run, which is why they want to invest in proper PPE.

The hotel perspective

Harsh cleaning chemicals, heights, noise, trips and falls - the cleaning staff in hotels is not free from the need to wear proper PPE. In the past, PPE was not given much importance in the hotel industry. However, things have drastically changed. The high expectations of guests from the hotel has added pressure in the job of cleaning and maintaining both the guest areas and back areas.

This job is equally risky as it exposes the engineering technicians, housekeepers and stewards to contagious and contaminated products, highly toxic cleaning solutions and dangerous or hazardous areas/zones. The importance of PPE especially in such tasks or areas is essential. That is the reason they are now become mandatory to mention even in the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) provided by chemical suppliers.

In fact, PPE is continuing to evolve, considering its importance in the workplace. For example, a decade ago, it was necessary to have eye cleaning solution in a liquid form. Nowadays, it has become a workplace design to install an eyewash faucet in all back areas that has the storage of high risk chemicals.

“The main driver is the risk of the job itself that involves the staff to perform a task that may be of physical injury in the short or long term. For example, some chemicals are so acidic that they may cause skin rashes the moment they are touched undiluted, causing an immediate injury. Others create strong fumes that have an effect on the cleaner’s lungs in the long run. It is the sole responsibility of every employer to provide a workplace that is in favor of employees in performing their job safely.

Even the local authorities and municipalities conduct a random check of back areas to ensure employers meet this basic standard; such is the importance of PPE nowadays,” says Minar Aliyar, Cluster Executive Housekeeper at Accor Hotels Grand Mercure & Ibis Styles Dubai Airport (Pre-Opening)Yousuf Sameer Syed, the Executive Housekeeper at Al Khoory Hotels reiterates that rising awareness towards personal health and safety, local legislative laws, research and development and demand for better safety solutions are the main drivers behind the evolution of PPE and workplace safety. “Every worker who comes healthy, should go healthy - physically and mentally,” says Yousuf, and we agree with him.

 Leelavathi Nannuru, the Executive Housekeeper from Le Méridien Dubai Hotel attributes the evolution of PPE to technology and development. She says that in the earlier days, PPE would be very basic. But now, there is a specialised equipment for each body part like helmets for the head, gloves for the hands, solarised spectacles for the eyes, etc. “A common practice nowadays is to TRAIN the cleaning staff before they start working. At the Le Méridien, we have a dedicated trainer who trains them on everything - chemicals, equipment, how to deal with each type of cleaning, what to wear, what not to wear. This helps us a lot. Besides, awareness is ever increasing among the workers. Everyone wants to keep themselves safe. This, coupled with strict laws and media attention drives the advancements in PPE,” says Leelavathi.

Maintaining PPE

Minar further adds that there is a different set of guidelines for maintaining different categories of PPE and that universally, these guidelines are regulated by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration while some are based on the PPE act established for workplace regulations back in 1992. The basic rule is that all equipment must be cleaned and disinfected after every use. The PPE storage must be monitored for temperature and humidity, expiry dates to be monitored especially for liquids, etc.

At Al Khoory Hotels, Yousuf believes that a single error can nullify the very concept of PPE. So in order to maintain it, he follows a set SOP, which is guided by some basic questions - where to collect and deposit the PPE? How should it be cleaned? What should be the storage points? Both Minar and Yousuf vouch for the usage of disposable PPE as it is more hygienic and viable.

However, its environmental impact needs to be considered. But, Le Méridien Dubai uses a combination of disposable and regular PPE, depending upon the task and type of cleaning. For example, face masks and hair nets are always disposable but gloves can be disposable or rubber made. In rooms, the former are used. In outdoor cleaning, the latter are used.

Factors to consider while choosing PPE

At Accor Hotels, PPE is chosen based on durability, purpose and cost. All sizes are considered so that it can fit all employees. The purpose behind this is maintaining a healthy workplace. In addition to this, the PPE are regularly audited!

Similarly, Al Khoory Hotels summarizes these factors into 4 crisp pointers - cost, comfort, ease of use and quality. Each of these has its own significance. While cost and quality ensure that PPE is feasible for the company, comfort and ease of use ensures that the cleaning staff actually uses it.

At Le Méridien Dubai, safety, security and quality form the basis behind choosing PPE. “When it comes to PPE, there are many companies that are ISO certified. When we see the ISO standards being complied, then only we buy from them because the quality of PPE can affect a human’s life, which is of prime importance to us,” says Leelavathi Nannuru.