UAE : Abu Dhabi Roads to Give Importance to Safety

Source : The National

Abu Dhabi road safety overhaul

ABU DHABI - JUL 16: Officials today announced widescale improvements and alterations to the emirate’s roads in the hope that they will lead to another big change: improved safety.

A design manual unveiled by the Urban Planning Council (UPC) will guide the design of future roads.

But in the present, Department of Transport officials say improvements to the 327km Al Mafraq-Al Ghweifat motorway should erase its reputation as the most dangerous road in Abu Dhabi.

Fourteen per cent of the emirate’s wrecks occurred on the motorway in 2007.

Ibrahim al Hmoudi of the UPC’s transport section said good street design would be “vital to safety and quality of life to the people of Abu Dhabi”.

One of the UPC’s proposed changes is to reduce the number of lanes on Abu Dhabi roads from three to two. That would allow pavements to be widened for bicycle lanes or shade for pedestrians. Mr al Hmoudi said it also would lead to a natural calming effect, reducing speeds on the roads.

The so-called superblock layout in the capital would be broken up by intersections and more zebra crossings, which would increase crossing opportunities for pedestrians. In the future, the capital’s streets also will have fewer right lanes at traffic lights, meaning all vehicles must stop for traffic, making it easier to cross roads on foot.

Alterations of Khalifa bin Zayed Street will begin next year, with the UPC recommendations likely to be rolled out in Al Ain and Al Gharbia later.

The move was welcomed on the street yesterday, with Limbo Ramez, a Nepalese electrician, saying it was crucial to close up unofficial pedestrian crossings.

“It is not just me, it is everybody,” he said. “If there is no gap, nobody will cross – very simple.”

Among the improvements announced by the transport department yesterday for the Al Mafraq-Al Ghweifat motorway, which will cost about Dh40 million (US$11m), were new warning signs and the closing of dangerous U-turns, where drivers face turning into oncoming traffic at high speeds.

High noon law enforcers move in

UAE - JUL 16:Teams from the Ministry of Labour are running spot checks to ensure that building contractors give workers a midday break. But they have found plenty of companies prepared to ignore the rule, putting their employees’ health at risk. Praveen Menon joins one group of inspectors

The man had a fever and felt giddy. He was trying to rest by lying in the sand, but the scorching heat and dust-filled air were, if anything, making him feel worse.

Luckily for him, his predicament was noted by labour inspectors as they carried out spot checks at work sites yesterday to make sure that companies were falling in line with the midday break rule.

It resulted in the man’s bosses, contractors running building work at Dubai Silicon Oasis, being given an immediate notice demanding an explanation why he had not been taken to hospital. Although it was observing the midday break law, the company could be fined and may face further legal action.

The visit was just one of several made every day by Ministry of Labour teams as they look to educate employers and workers, as well as enforce the law.

“It is our aim to protect the basic human rights of these workers,” said Maher Hamad al Obad, the acting executive director for inspections. “We believe that when the workers get rest their productivity improves, which is beneficial for all.”

The midday break rule started on July 1 and runs until the end of August. It bans construction companies from conducting any outdoor work between 12.30pm and 3pm.

The National accompanied inspectors yesterday on half a dozen site visits. They also checked many others from a distance.

Contractors at two sites were issued with notices for various violations. Inspectors have conducted 18,675 site visits in the past two weeks; 201 sites were found to be in breach of the midday break rule.

The day started around 10.30am with a briefing at the Ministry of Labour office in Al Qusais as teams prepared their inspections.

The first hour would be a “guidance visit”, Mr al Obad explained, in which construction companies and their workers would be advised about the regulations.

“The aim of such visits is to spread awareness about the rule and ask everyone to respect the idea of stopping work during this period of the day,” said Mr al Obad.

First stop was the Dubai Silicon Oasis, a residential complex under construction. The inspectors entered the site at noon, their sudden arrival registering surprise on the faces of workers and contractors.

There were about 50 to 60 labourers at the site, most of them from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

One of the inspectors addressed the workers in Hindi, telling them: “We are here to help you. If there is any problem, let us know. Working in severe heat will make you ill and we do not want anyone to be ill.”

Inspectors checked the workers’ facilities, including the rest area, and said they were satisfied by what they had seen. The contractors had provided two air-conditioned rest rooms on each floor for the workers to rest during their break.

Pamphlets and brochures, containing information about the rules and warnings about the effects of heat, were given out.

“We use the break time for our lunch and also catch some sleep. In the summer we get tired very quickly as we sweat a lot,” said Ahmed Ali, a worker at the site. The men had been working there for nearly a year.

It was at a neighbouring site that the inspectors found the sick worker lying in the sand, though the midday break regulations were being followed.

The inspectors asked questions and found that the man had felt he had no choice but to go to work despite being unwell.

“The worker told us that he was worried that the company would cut his salary if he took a day off,” said an inspector.

“He should have been taken to the doctor immediately and should not be at a work site,” said Mr al Obad, as he signed off a notice issued to the contractors.

“They will now have to come to the labour office and we will conduct inquiries into the matter.

“All transactions of the company will be stopped until the matter is cleared up.”

Such an offence can lead to a fine of Dh10,000 (US$2,720) and may result in the company being referred to the public prosecutor.

In their defence, the contractors insisted that the man had been waiting for a vehicle to take him to hospital.

It was now 12.30pm and time for the workers to down their tools and rest.

The inspection teams moved towards Al Warqa, another area with dozens of construction sites, especially villas and small houses and flats.

Unable to check every site individually, the inspectors drove through the area looking around for any labourers who were working.

At 12.45pm, the inspectors stopped at a villa where labourers were still on the job in searing heat.

Pictures were taken of the site and the workers were asked who had ordered them to work.

“Our inspectors made a report of this and questioned the workers if they were asked to work at this time,” said Mr al Obad.

“If this is a first offence this contractor faces a fine of Dh10,000. However, they will have to come to the labour office tomorrow and fines are issued only after investigation is complete.”

The inspectors also checked to see if facilities such as cold drinks and shelter were provided at the site.

Mr al Obad said the fine for first offenders was Dh10,000, which increased to Dh20,000 and Dh30,000 depending on the number of times an offence was committed.

Companies are categorised into A, B and C. A signifies companies without any violations while C represents those that have repeated violations.

Companies falling into category C will not be able to issue visas for workers and its file is blocked for any further transactions.

The teams moved on and came across another group of men in Al Warqa who were working through the midday break as they painted the outside of a villa.

“We have seen two offences and both have been summoned,” said Mr al Obad.

“This shows our commitment to the rule and our efforts to ensure its implementation.”

However, at some sites, workers who saw the inspectors approaching downed tools and ran off, obviously in fear that they might be caught.

The inspectors are used to this and believe that some companies are telling their men to continue working through the break, but to stop if they see inspectors approaching.

Rental rates keep tumbling in Dubai

DUBAI - JUL 16: Villa rental rates in Dubai plunged by almost a quarter over 12 weeks, according to new data published today – and agents warned that prices may tumble further should the worst predictions of a summer population exodus come true.

House rental prices dropped by an average of 24 per cent in Dubai between April and June, while those of flats fell by 21 per cent, according to a report by the property services firm Asteco.

Villa and apartment purchase prices also fell by an average of 15 and 13 per cent respectively, according to the figures, although properties in Palm Jumeirah bucked the trend, increasing by up to 20 per cent.

The research comes only days after statistics showed that rents had fallen by up to 35 per cent in parts of Abu Dhabi, although they remained far higher than those in Dubai.

Several agents last month said Abu Dhabi landlords were keeping rents in the capital high and clinging to unrealistic income expectations, which had worsened the housing shortage.

Andrew Chambers, the managing director of Asteco, said the disparity in rents between the two cities was driving large numbers of people who work in the capital to commute from Dubai.

“We have seen prices in Dubai fall again this quarter, and we are seeing a continuation of the trend of people who work in Abu Dhabi relocating to Dubai,” Mr Chambers said.

“In this sense, prices in Dubai are being buoyed by people who are working in Abu Dhabi. People are comparing the prices and deciding whether they would like to live in an apartment in Abu Dhabi and pay a high price but not have to commute, or a place in Dubai, where they will have to drive, but they will pay a lower price and get extra facilities like a pool and a gym.”

Dubai’s International City district was the cheapest area to rent a one-bedroom flat. It saw rents fall by 21 per cent during the last three months to Dh40,000 per year. The most expensive area was Palm Jumeirah, where tenants could expect to pay Dh100,000.

The most expensive area to rent a three-bedroom villa was Downtown Burj Dubai, where it would cost Dh265,000 per year, while the cheapest area was Mirdiff at Dh107,000.

The property report said that if there was a large-scale movement of people out of Dubai during July and August, prices could drop further.

Jesse Downs, the director of research and advisory services at Landmark Advisory, a division of the property brokerage firm Landmark Properties, said she expected to see more declines.

“In terms of rents, we are still in a downwards price cycle,” she said. “Prices have come down significantly. However, in some areas prices have started to plateau, and in others even increase. In recent years, we have seen a large inflation of prices, which has forced some people to leave Dubai and move to areas such as Sharjah.”

She added that people previously priced out of the market were now considering moving back in. That, combined with the large number of people working in Abu Dhabi but living in Dubai, was helping stabilise rents in Dubai.

“We have expected there is going to be a mass exodus from Dubai, and we have already seen people leaving,” she said. “I do think prices will decline but it is hard to say by how much. It depends on the extent of the pent-up demand.”

Policeman installing speed camera shot

SHARJAH - JUL 16: A policeman is recovering in hospital after being shot as he installed a speed camera.

Nasser Nour Abdullah, 32, was one of four officers working along Al Ittihad Road, near Sahara Mall, in Sharjah on Monday when he was hit in the left leg.

Police believe the bullet was fired from a nearby building. They were still hunting for the gunman today. The shooting happened at about 4am, as residents were heading out for their early prayers.

As Mr Abdullah lay bleeding on the road, and with police reinforcements and paramedics rushing to the scene, worshippers who had been heading to a mosque gathered around to help.

Police officers immediately cordoned off the area.

They believe that the shot came from inside one of several buildings across the road from the mall but had little else to go on yesterday as they gathered evidence.

However, a spokesman for Sharjah Police said it was not thought to be a random shooting.

“Until the criminal is arrested, only he can tell us why he shot the police officer on duty,” said the spokesman.

Mr Abdullah has been with the force for eight years. He is in Al Qassimi Hospital.
Sources at the hospital said last night the officer was recovering well and it was likely that he would be discharged in the next few days.

The incident was the second attack on a police officer in Sharjah this year.

In April, Rashid Mohammed, 43, survived knife wounds to the chest when he was stabbed by a Pakistani driver whose vehicle he had stopped.


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