As Qatar's infrastructure continues to develop and expand in line with the National Development Strategy published in March 2011, the need for a robust health, safety and environment ("HSE") regime has become increasingly evident. Although existing legislation in Qatar addresses various HSE issues, there is no single comprehensive piece of legislation universally applicable to HSE. Ensuring compliance with the requisite provisions of the various laws and regulations in the absence of such centralised legislation has been a point of considerable concern for many companies, particularly where non-compliance may lead to the imposition of fines or criminal penalties.
However recent developments, particularly the circulation on 5 May 2011 of the "HSE Legal Framework in the Oil & Gas Sector", suggest that a more uniformly structured HSE regime may be on the horizon for Qatar.
The National Committee on Occupational Health and Safety
Cabinet Resolution No (16) of 2011 established the National Committee of Occupational Health and Safety ("Committee") at the Ministry of Labour. The Committee is comprised of representatives from various ministries (including the Supreme Council of Health), authorities (including the Public Works Authority) and Qatar Petroleum ("QP").
Although the competencies of the Committee are numerous, perhaps the most significant responsibilities for the purposes of this article are to:
- propose a national policy and system for occupational health and safety;
- devise and revise the occupational health and safety rules and regulations; and
- propose the mechanisms in respect of enforcing compliance with
health and safety rules and regulations
Whilst not specifically stated in the resolution, the formulation of a national policy and system for occupational health and safety suggests the adoption of a more unified approach to occupational health and safety, potentially resulting in a single body of health and safety rules and regulations.
It is interesting to note that traditionally the Labour Law of 2004 and other pieces of legislation provided for specific exemptions in respect of QP employees. The inclusion in the Committee of a QP representative may be a further indication that ultimately the national policy will apply universally throughout Qatar, even extending to the energy sector.
The Health, Safety, and Environment Regulatory and Enforcement Directorate ("Directorate")
As noted in the previous paragraph, Qatar's reliance on oil and gas revenue has in the past contributed to the development of a comparatively bespoke body of legislation related to the energy sector. Decree No (4) of 1977 originally entrusted QP with the HSE regulatory tasks for the petroleum industry. However, many of the provisions in that and subsequent laws reference "conceptual", rather than specific, standards and practices.
In 2005 the Chairman of the Board of Directors of QP pursuant to Decision (5) of the same year mandated the Directorate with assuring that HSE risks within the petroleum industry were regulated and controlled. Pursuant to its mandate, the Directorate in 2010 produced a reference document specifically listing the applicable internationally recognised standards to be applied in the energy sector.
On 25 April 2011, the Directorate issued a memorandum designed to brief industry stakeholders in respect of the Directorate's approach to establishing HSE risk regulating guidelines ("Memorandum"). The Memorandum acknowledged that following an assessment of the existing HSE legislation, there exist few specifics that would control the significant risks associated with the industry, citing the 2010 Gulf of Mexico incident as an example of one such risk. In the absence of such specific legislative provisions, the Directorate has adopted as a stop-gap measure the internationally recognised HSE practices of North America, Europe, and other applicable standards.
Furthermore, the Memorandum set-outs a series of 21 consultation papers designed to supplement existing legislation by addressing a number of issues including pipeline management, environmental impact assessment, and pandemic planning.
The HSE Legal Framework in the Oil & Gas Sector (" HSE Framework")
As part of its HSE legislation assessment exercise, the Directorate on 5 May 2011 issued the HSE Framework. The HSE Framework is 195 pages in length and is issued in dual English and Arabic languages. The HSE Framework is not an independent piece of legislation, but rather takes the relevant HSE provisions of the various Qatari laws and regulations and assembles them into a single document. Although the HSE Framework does not replace the provisions of existing legislation, it cross-refers specific articles to their original legislative source, thereby providing valuable assistance and guidance in respect of complying with the various HSE requirements currently in place in Qatar.
A Glimpse of the Future?
A vastly expanding infrastructure, coupled with the hard-learned lessons in the Gulf of Mexico and Japan, appear to have shifted considerably Qatar's focus on HSE. If the first half of 2011 is indicative of future progress in strengthening and consolidating its HSE regime, then Qatar is well positioned to be a leader in setting the HSE standards for the region.
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