How Expo 2020 Dubai never lost sight of worker welfare through the COVID-19 pandemic

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Dubai: Prioritising on the physical and mental health of the workforce and looking after their wellbeing is top priority for Expo 2020 Dubai. Work at the site is going on at full swing. On World Health Day, Emma Seymour, vice-president, Worker Welfare Expo 2020, highlighted the commitment of the team towards the collective health of the diverse community of the Expo 2020 Dubai work force.

Pooling resources and best practices for best results

“Worker health, safety and welfare are of utmost importance to us and we have devised a strategy called ‘Better Together’, where all the participating organisations, contractors and sub-contractors share resources and ideas on health and safety so that there is an active exchange of best practices,” Seymour said.

She added that until January 2020, which was the peak of activities at the site, there were about 44,829 workers working under 41 main contractors and 292 sub-contractors. “Currently, we have about 17,000 workers and they come predominantly from India and Pakistan. There are some from Nepal, from many African countries, from Arab countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and we have some from China as well. This constitutes a very diverse workforce and we ensure their physical and mental health needs are optimally met. We have collective and individual health checks for every worker.”

Around-the-clock, on-site emergency service

Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has a 24×7 onsite emergency service centre since 2019 — perhaps the first at any construction site. The place, which is very much a mini hospital, is equipped to deal with preventive and occupational health emergencies and is manned by 20 doctors and nurses. “This place has the ability to assess a patient in case of a mishap, stabllise and treat and in case of a more serious emergency, transfer the patient to a trauma care hospital,” explained Seymour.

Emma Seymour

During the peak of the pandemic, every organisation was asked to provide a COVID-19 risk assessment report and follow comprehensive protocol guidelines. Buses plying workers to the site were operated at 50 per cent reduced capacity; there were regular deep-cleaning campaigns at worker accommodations. The Expo 2020 Dubai welfare team conducted actual and virtual inspections of accommodations, checked on hygiene and sanitation facilities at the accommodations and work sites and ensured that all contractors were compliant with the basic COVID-19 protocol of wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and hand sanitisation among other practices.

Harnessing technology for good health

Technology has played a major role in executing health programmes for workers. Apart from virtual training sessions and inspections, Expo 2020 Dubai has initiated the use of wearable devices to monitor the general health parameters of the workforce. “We followed a work wellness programme where we assessed the general health parameters of the workers. We had about 5,000 participants. They were subjected to more than 1,467 preventive health screenings. They were provided with a wearable device to assess their cardiovascular health and sleep patterns. If a worker was identified with a specific health issue, he would be referred for a specific health consultation.

Seymour further added that the worker welfare programme was unique to the Expo 2020 Dubai vision. “It is based on three core values of Care, Respect and Pride along with the six pillars of strategy: Leadership, communication, competence, engagement, recognition and continued improvement. The Expo team also harnessed technology to hold virtual recognition for those who adopted best practices.

There is enough scope for leisure and recreation for workers at the Expo 2020 Dubai site.
Image Credit: Supplied

A well-structured welfare strategy

As part of the ‘better together’ approach, all the 300 different service provider companies are encouraged to share their best practices and resources.

The Expo worker welfare team makes sure all the physical and mental health needs of the workers are met with. The team holds inspections to make sure that the kitchens and mess halls run by organsiations are audited. The companies have a food programme that provides nutritionally balanced food to workers. Optimum recreational spaces such as cricket pitches, playground as well as recreation rooms are also provided. Organisations also extend free mental health counselling for all workers. Seymour added: “Apart from that, our team offers a mental health helpline and any worker can reach out to the Expo 2020 Dubai team directly in case he or she feels the need to.”

Many of the contractors also run language schools, trade schools for workers in their organsiations to encourage workers to enhance their basic skill sets.

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Females rule the roost

One of the heartening aspects of Expo 2020 Dubai is the higher ratio of female-to-male population in the work force. Seymour said: “In the Expo 2020 Dubai team, we have something like 52 per cent female workers to 48 per cent male colleagues. We have a high representation of female staff in some of our consultancy programmes and in some of our service providers who maintain our signature pavilion.

Post-Expo 2020 plans

Al the working conditions fall within the purview of the UAE labour law and although a transient work force, many of the workers are likely to stay back in the UAE once Expo 2020 Dubai ends. “We expect worker numbers to increase during the actual even. While some will move to other fields, some others may return home. Still others may move to other projects as the contractors may be lucky to bag other contracts. We have individuals who will stay on and maintain the site when it transitions into District 2020,” Seymour explained.

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