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Engi Jaber, CEO and Managing Director of Climatize, a Serco company Designing the future – integrating climate resilience into occupational health & safety

The recent storms in Dubai have made us all too aware our fragility to mother nature.

As the clean-up operation is well underway, and the quick-thinking emergency services deal with the aftermath of what has been the biggest storm in Dubai for 75 years, we can pause to reflect on how we can continue to further strengthen our ability to deal with such extreme weather events.

With this year’s World Safety Day focusing on the impacts of climate change on occupational health and safety, it is imperative that we continue to integrate climate resilience practices to safeguard both employees and infrastructure.

Indeed, this also serves as a stark reminder of the critical need to prioritise safety, particularly in the built environment. And with this year’s World Safety Day focusing on the impacts of climate change on occupational health and safety, it is imperative that we continue to integrate climate resilience practices to safeguard both employees and infrastructure.

The built environment, which encompasses infrastructures and urban spaces, translates to our day-to-day interaction with the planet: all of these are vulnerable to climate change, posing significant risks to occupational safety. The construction industry is by far the largest influencer of climate change within the built environment, and so this provides the opportunity for us to look at critical urban infrastructure and how it can be designed to help create healthy human centric places and buildings for all.

To address this, several crucial steps should be taken;

Designing the Future

Firstly, at a developer, designer and builder level, there needs to be a clear understanding of the current risks assessments from the start. It’s important that from the very beginning of the construction process, an assessment takes place of the potential climate-related hazards that could affect the built environment. This includes identifying risks such as flooding, heat stress, and extreme weather events. By understanding these risks, organisations can develop tailored safety strategies.

But of course, it’s not just the physical infrastructure; it’s the intangible, invisible infrastructure too of the built environment. Air quality, noise and light pollution should also be looked at when prioritising health and safety. Using clean energy, minimising the reliance on fossil fuels for heating, cooling and transportation, ultimately helps create a healthy place for the worker and those who live and work nearby.

Knowing Your Environment

Once the findings from the risk assessment are complete, the next steps here are to implement adaptation measures, ultimately acting on the findings.

This could, for example, involve upgrading infrastructure to withstand extreme weather, implementing heat stress management protocols, and designing buildings with flood-resistant features.

This is the time to also work closely with utility and resource providers to better assess the expected performance on infrastructure and natural systems should an extreme weather event occur.

Preparing for emergencies

Developing comprehensive emergency response plans that account for climate-related disasters may seem an obvious course of action, but it’s often overlooked – or perhaps not all of your employees are aware of what to do if a high-risk event takes place. It’s important to ensure that all workers are trained in emergency procedures and have access to necessary resources such as emergency kits and evacuation routes. Regular drills and simulations can help ensure readiness in the face of crises.

Tied to this is the importance of fostering a culture of safety in the workplace. All employees should be empowered to prioritise their well-being and that of their colleagues.

Encouraging open communication about safety concerns and providing avenues for workers to report hazards or near-misses, should be embedded in the DNA of the business. Training programmes on topics such as heat illness prevention, flood response, and disaster preparedness ensure that employees remain informed and capable of responding effectively to evolving safety challenges.

Collaboration across all stakeholders

With any systems, they are only effective if collaboration takes place across the business. Building climate resilient health systems requires multi-sectoral, multi-system and collaborative efforts at all governance scales.

Engaging all stakeholders, from government agencies, employers, workers, and communities is essential for building climate-resilient infrastructure. By working together, stakeholders can share expertise, resources, and best practices to enhance occupational safety in the built environment.

Delivering a better, healthier, greener built environment requires the input of more than just the developers and building engineers. It’s about bringing everyone together, from the government and policy makers to the employees as well – it might be cliched to say that everyone needs to do their bit, but in order to impact a better future it’s true.

With climate change billed as the ‘greatest health threat of the 21st century’ according to World Health Organisation (WHO) reports, the extent of the health impacts will be determined mainly by the vulnerability of populations, but importantly on our ability to act.

The mitigating measures we put in place will increase our resilience to the current rate of climate change; as we look to future-proof our urban environments, and protect the health and safety of our citizens, creating sustainable built environments will be vital.