Image Credit: Courtesy Abu Dhabi muncipality

Abu Dhabi: Cleaning companies must now obtain a maintenance licence before undertaking any work on building facades and windows in the capital, the Municipality of Abu Dhabi City announced in a statement sent on Wednesday.

Any companies in the sector found to be violating municipal health, safety and environment (HSE) standards will face fines ranging from Dh10,000 to Dh20,000.

The municipal decision and revised fines come after a spate of recent accidents and near-accidents in the capital involving workers cleaning building facades.

While two window cleaners were killed in October when their scaffolding collapsed, four others were rescued by the Abu Dhabi Police in two separate incidents last month.

“Scaffolding equipment is considered to be among the top risks posed to workers,” said Abdul Aziz Zurub, the municipality’s HSE director.

“The municipality will therefore rigorously monitor all building and construction sites, as well as maintenance and cleaning works, to ensure that companies comply with all HSE requirements,” Zurub said.

According to statistics revealed by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi, 53 lives were lost in 2011 due to falls from heights and falling objects. In addition, 59 per cent of all injuries from falls and falling objects occurred in the construction sector.

The licence to undertake the cleaning of building facades can be obtained via the municipality’s e-licensing programme.

A list of approved technical inspection companies must also inspect the equipment used by cleaning companies every six months.

These inspection companies have themselves been approved by the municipal HSE department, as well as the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA).

Companies engaged in maintenance or construction that do not implement the appropriate security precautions to safeguard passers-by or adjacent buildings will be considered as violating the municipal HSE standards.

Other violations include undertaking maintenance or construction work without the appropriate permit, or working beyond the prescribed working hours, the municipality statement said.

If a violation is detected, operations could be suspended until the applicable fines are paid and the errors corrected.

Zurub urged cleaning companies to ensure that scaffolding equipment, cranes and platforms are made of safe and high-quality materials.

“Platforms should be panelled with wood so that they can withstand loads. In addition, protection barriers and systems to prevent debris from falling should also be provided,” he said.

The official also said that scaffolding equipment must be anchored with a rigid support system and base plate on a solid ground surface. Workers must also use securely connected safety belts, and protective personal equipment such as face masks.

In addition, all equipment must be re-checked after bad weather conditions, or when cleaning platforms and cranes are dismantled or changed.

Mihal Labonov, technical director at equipment manufacturing and maintenance company Tass Industries, said many cleaning companies tend to use cheaper equipment that is often not safe.

“In many other countries, load tests to check the condition of equipment used in construction and cleaning works are required each year. The Municipality of Abu Dhabi City has, however, implemented even stricter standards, requiring these tests to be conducted every six months,” Labonov said.

“While the stricter inspection standards will enhance safety for workers, companies must also always ensure that workers are well trained and provided with proper safety equipment,” he added.