Contact us

Health 'n safety; Skip Cottage

1974 was a landmark year for safety in the UK with the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work (etc) Act. The Act repealed most of the specific safety legislation that preceded it, placed obligations on anyone who employed people (and obligations on the employed too), introduced risk assessments and enabled the establishment of what is today the Health & Safety Executive. Its effects on safety and the economy in the UK have been momentous. Workplace accidents have been vastly reduced, all responsible employers invest in safety practises and equipment, and moan about the cost of doing so. Yes, there is a significant burden of overheads that they have to swallow, but research has shown that the actual overall cost of safety has decreased. The maxim “If you think having safety is expensive, try having an accident” is very true. There’s an urban myth (recently pedalled again by the Brexiteers) that having joined (what is now) the European Union in 1973 that this was all mandated by Brussels. Not a bit of it, The Act was entirely from Westminster and for many years was well ahead of the EU legislation, and was lauded as an exemplary for the other Member States to follow.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a (usually) benign dictatorship. The law of the land is set by Royal Decrees. Court criminal law is Sharia Law i.e. as interpreted by the judge who refers to the Holy Qu’ran (Koran). This is supplemented by the Hadith (the authenticated sayings of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him)). There are two laws that provide some governance for the workplace, the Labour Law and the General Environment Law, and there are also some decrees that impact on the workplace. A noticeable example is the midday work ban for outside labourers, This is applicable from 11.00 until 15.00 during the summer months, or at any other time when the temperature under direct sunlight reaches 50 deg C.

The General Environment Law has sections on managing hazardous materials and preventing contamination etc. But not much on worker safety. Apart from that, safety is very dependent on the worksite managers. From my office window I can see two construction projects. One is the construction of a surface and elevated section of the new Riyadh Metro, and there I can see that all the workers wear hard hats and safety boots. They use harnesses if working at height, so I can presume that the safety culture in the construction company is strong. On the other side of the street there is a multi-storey office being erected, and they are now up to the 6th floor. Ever since the excavators moved in to dig the foundations I have not seen a shred of PPE on any of the workers. The majority are Asian in appearance and many wear the loose-fitting garb synonymous with Pakistan or Afghanistan. These guys work exposed on high scaffolding and all sorts of risky corners and contraptions with their flannels flapping in the wind, and I am amazed and relieved that there hasn’t been a serious injury – or worse – in the last year.


Building site in Riyadh

There are no safety representatives on the workforces, the law does not require it. Even if there was, I fear the Asian employment culture may well over-ride such sensibilities. I can only assume that the relevant inspectors are not very proactive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were fully occupied with post-incident activities.

I do not have to look far to see other examples of H&S sillies. This picture is one of my favourites, taken recently in a general store in Riyadh – no caption is needed!


On the railway side, my job is advisor to the Public Transport Authority and chief accident investigator. We have to uphold the relevant law which is the Railway Safety Law and the enabling decree for the (as was) Saudi Railways Commission. As a safety advisor, I have to behave very properly when on the railway systems and lead by example. It is sometimes a case of exaggerating the safety routines, as we have to be seen to be being safety conscious.

At least railway safety is miles ahead of that of the roads. Thngs there never cease to amaze me. I do wonder what led to this scenario...



As a blogger, I like to read other blogs and see how they are done. A really good one, and one of my favourites is called “Skip Cottage” and is posted by a friend of mine called Bob Cowan. Bob lives a rural life in a wee house on one of the byways between Moffat and Lockerbie. He describes daily life in his cottage and garden, and his meanderings near and far in search for culture and steam railways and country walks. Bob used to be a really good curler and won the Scottish championship in 1983. I popped in to see him in March last year before moving out to Riyadh and he was in fine form. However, at the age of 70 the big garden is getting a bit too much for him and he is selling up and moving to Largs. Sadly, he is wrapping up his blog too so I will miss my weekly dose of seeing Scottish life through his camera lens and gentle yet humourous writing. Have a look at for how to run a blog well, I am nowhere near his class of blogger, and wish I was. Good luck in your move, Bob.

Contacting us is straightforward

* Email:

* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212