United Arab Emirates: Environment Health & Safety Legal Reform In Abu Dhabi

On 30 March 2012, the second version of the Environment, Health and Safety Management System (EHSMS) was launched in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. In this update we take a look at the early days of EHSMS, the changes that have been recently introduced, and some issues EHSMS may face in the future, as it is adopted by entities in Abu Dhabi.


Formally introduced by Decree in 2009, EHSMS aimed at providing a framework to assist public and private entities identify, control and reduce workplace risks and the impacts of their business activities on the environment, human health and the safety of workers and the community. Prior to its introduction, there was a lack of detail when it came to health and safety matters, with entities having to look to a raft of dated Federal and Emirate level legislation in order to find out what the overarching principles were. EHSMS adopted a more international approach, seeking to draw upon experience and best practice in health and safety issues from around the globe.

EHSMS started out life under the remit of the Environment Authority – Abu Dhabi, but in 2010 a dedicated EHS Centre was established by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council to oversee and monitor the implementation of EHSMS in Abu Dhabi. The EHS Centre plays a coordinating role between the various Sector Regulatory Authorities (SRAs) and government entities on EHSMS matters and also reports to the Executive Council on progress.

In the past couple of years, the number of regulated sectors has also increased with education, food, waste water and commercial activities joining the original group comprising building & construction, energy, health, waste, transport, industry and tourism. The SRAs have been working towards developing their tailored EHSMS, nominating entities to participate in their sectors, reviewing the EHSMS developed by their 'Nominated Entities' and monitoring implementation through inspections and audits. 

Unifying EHSMS

In late 2010, the EHS Centre began the process of updating the EHSMS with a view to creating a more integrated system, by filling gaps and eliminating duplicates and conflicting regulations at the sector level. The EHS Centre has created more of a 'one stop shop' of requirements on relevant topics, in the hope that entities will be able to effectively implement EHSMS in a unified manner.

The revised structure, launched in March 2012, consists of the following layers:

  1. EHSMS Decree 42 of 2009, EHS Policy, EHSMS Manual and Glossary of Terms;
  2. RF Elements and EHS Regulatory Instruments (comprising Codes of Practice, Standards & Trigger Values and Mechanisms);
  3. Guidelines (comprising Technical and EHSMS Guidance Documents);
  4. Sector EHSMS; and
  5. Government and Private Entities' EHSMS.

What has changed?

The key changes to the EHSMS framework include:

  1. Introduction of RF Elements (akin to the Codes of Practice under the old system) to define the requirements of the EHSMS, covering topics such as management of contractors; emergency management; and monitoring, investigation and reporting.
  2. Introduction of Regulatory Instruments to define mandatory requirements relating to the practices and procedures to be followed in a particular subject area, comprising:

    1. Codes of Practice covering topics ranging from hazardous substances through to personal protective equipment and environmental management. Some of the 55 Codes of Practice are still under development.
    2. Standards & Trigger Values (akin to the previous Standards & Guideline Values) setting out the level of pollutants prescribed by regulations that is not to be exceeded during a given time in a defined occupational environment. The Standards & Trigger Values are arranged by subject matter and include air, land, water and noise.
    3. Mechanisms setting out the processes to be followed on a variety of topics, such as identifying, nominating and registering entities, EHSMS performance and incident reporting.

  3. Introduction of Guidelines to provide guidance and advice on how to achieve a requirement as defined in a RF Element or Regulatory Instrument, made up of:

    1. Technical Guidelines covering topics such as air quality management, safety in the heat and safe working in confined spaces. These are designed to represent best practice advice, and as such are not mandatory.
    2. AD EHSMS Guidance Documents providing a detailed explanation or information on a specific EHSMS subject, such as EHS roles, responsibilities and structures; key performance indicators; and self-regulation.

All of the RF Elements, Regulatory Instruments and Guidelines are available for download via the EHS Centre's website (http://www.adehsms.ae/Pages/Default.aspx).

The future for EHSMS

The revised EHSMS structure is still in its infancy, having only been launched in March 2012, and so the sectors and their nominated entities will, no doubt, still be in the transition phase.

Hopefully we will see an increased awareness of EHS issues in the UAE as a result of the updates to EHSMS in Abu Dhabi. However, the main issue which remains unresolved is enforcement, and so it remains to be seen how the EHS Centre and SRAs will tackle compliance under the new regime.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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