City of the future

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Expo 2020 Dubai is the first World Expo of its kind to be held in the Middle East, Africa or South Asia.

Running from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022, it will bring together 191 nations and millions of visitors for a global celebration of human creativity, ingenuity and innovation.

After winning the Sword of Honour, hot on the heels of receiving the British Safety Council’s Five Star Health and Safety Audit, Ahmed Al Khatib, chief development and delivery officer, speaks to us about health and safety on the project.

Al Wasl Plaza at night. Photograph: Expo 2020 Dubai

In his words, what is Expo 2020 Dubai? “It takes place on one of the world’s most technologically connected sites,” explains Ahmed. “A 4.38 square kilometre city of the future that includes beautiful parks and gardens, performance spaces, and iconic architecture such as Al Wasl Plaza, the stunning centrepiece of the site, with the world’s largest 360-degree projection surface.” Dubai Exhibition Centre, which forms a key part of the Expo 2020’s legacy, will also be a focal point.

It is a vast and impressive project with equally numerous safety challenges. “In January 2020, we reached a peak of a daily on-site workforce of nearly 45,000 people,” says Ahmed. With a month to go until opening, the number is about 20,000. To date, more than 238 million hours have been worked, overseen by 50 main contractors, more than 2,000 sub-contractors and about 50 supervising consultants.

Thematic districts. Photograph: Expo 2020 Dubai

“We’ve worked hard to ensure that our commitment to health and safety is a collective one, and that everyone working with us shares the same goal,” explains Ahmed of the challenges of bringing all elements together. The Worker Welfare team adopted 10 worker welfare principles to apply to their contractors and third-party partners. These focused on high-risk areas, including recruitment, employment practices – such as wages and working hours – living conditions, health and safety – including managing heat stress – and access to internal grievance mechanisms.

So, what part did the British Safety Council audit play? Ahmed says that the audit not only looked at the design and construction of the site, and its operation, but provided an independent assessment of occupational health and safety management systems and whether they were effectively implemented.

“In addition to internal monitoring, we believe that working with internationally-renowned bodies to support oversight is a critical tool,” he says. “We were delighted to welcome the team of auditors from the British Safety Council to Dubai at the beginning of the year and undertake the rigorous audit process with them.”

Which aspects did the audit highlight for praise? “We received particular praise for worker engagement. For example, our Worker Welfare team has conducted – and continues to conduct – thousands of confidential interviews, with topics including recruitment and employment, remuneration and benefits, working hours and accommodation. Any concerns detected in these interviews are escalated as appropriate,” he says.

Expo 2020 Dubai’s team was also pleased to see the use of technology described as ‘impressive’ by the auditors. Particularly as the idea of ‘technology for good’ is a key concept at Expo 2020, which extends to the welfare of its workforce. “The Expo Worker Wellness Programme aims to lead the global conversation on how technology could be used to create a safer working environment on construction sites around the world,” says Ahmed. As part of the programme, more than 5,000 Expo workers wore ‘Whoop’ wearable devices, which collected more than 13 TB (terabytes) of data across 30 months, enhancing preventative healthcare by providing personalised reports on areas such as cardiovascular health and sleep patterns.

Mobility Pavilion. Photograph: Expo 2020 Dubai

Expo 2020 Dubai’s team has had to adapt to challenges that were not foreseen when, in 2013, Dubai won the bid in Paris to host the Expo. “We have had to act quickly and responsibly to meet the challenges of Covid-19, introducing a number of precautionary measures across the site, in line with the latest information and guidance,” says Ahmed.

When the Expo opens its doors on 1 October, Covid safety protocols will continue with increased cleaning and sanitisation, thermal cameras at arrival points and monitoring and control of visitor flow and capacity. “We are also proud to have offered the Covid-19 vaccine to all of our staff and participants. We will continue to monitor and adjust these measures as necessary, as October approaches and the situation continues to evolve.”

It’s an exciting project, and one that Ahmed hopes will act as a trailblazer in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for its work on safety and wellbeing. “As the first event of this size and scale to take place in this region, we know we have an incredible opportunity – and responsibility – to raise standards and set new benchmarks,” says Ahmed.

“Receiving the prestigious Sword of Honour was a really significant step forward in achieving this, and the recognition of our efforts was an extremely proud moment for everyone at Expo 2020, particularly in such a challenging year.”

He has just one more thing to add: “We look forward to welcoming the world to Expo 2020 from 1 October, for what we believe will be 182 days of unforgettable experiences – we hope to see you there!”



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