Duty of Care: What it Is and What it Means to Companies Operating in the GCC?


This article is another in my series of blog posts related to HSE requirements across the GCC and:

  1. Defines duty of care
  2. Lists the legal requirement for duty of care in each GCC country
  3. Describes in detail the UAE federal legislation related to duty, as a reasonable surrogate for requirements in all GCC countries,
  4. Provides a simple checklist that can serve as starting point to assessing potential compliance with duty-of-care obligations.

Duty of care refers to the legal obligation of a company to prevent harm and protect others while they are employed, visiting a worksite and/or exposed to the company’s activities.  In other words, duty of care is the obligation to keep  people safe at the workplace.  It is important to note that the workplace may also include traveling to and from the location in which “work” is being performed.  The concept of duty of care has developed over the years and has become the guiding principle for current health and safety legislation in most countries.

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are no exception; the labor laws of all of these countries have broad duty-of-care provisions.  For instance:

Bahrain – Article 166, Law No. 36 of 2012 requires that employers “provide the means of occupational safety and health at the workplaces in such a way as to ensure prevention from work hazards”.

Kuwait – Article 83, Law No. 6 of 2010 requires that employers “shall take all the safety measures to protect workers, machines and materials used in the establishment, and occasional visitors against work risks.”.

Oman – Article 104, Sultani Decree No. 52 of 2023 requires that employers “take the necessary precautions to protect the Workers on the job from health effects and occupational and machinery hazards”.

Qatar – Article 100, Law No. 4 of 2014 requires that employers “take all precautionary measures for protecting the workers during the work from any injury or disease that may result from the work performed in his establishment or from any accident, defect or breakdown in the machinery and equipment therein or from fire”.

Saudi Arabia – Article 122, Royal Decree NO. M/51 of 2005 requires that employers “take the necessary precautions to protect workers against hazards, occupational diseases, and the machinery in use, and shall ensure work safety and protection”.

United Arab Emirates – Article 13.6, Law No. 33 of 2021 requires that employers “protect workers from the risks of occupational diseases and injuries that may occur during work…”.

These duty of care provisions are expanded upon in other article in these labor laws and more comprehensibly within the various implementing regulations for these labor laws.

In the remainder of this blog post, I describe in detail the duty-of-care requirements as stated in UAE federal legislation.  The goal is to provide insight into specific requirements for these duty-of-care provisions, which in turn provide a basis for understanding how companies can comply with these requirements.  While the discussion below relates to the UAE, the general requirements and actions to ensure compliance offered below can be used as a reasonable surrogate for other GCC counties.

Of course, this is not legal advice and I strongly encourage you to ensure you understand the specific regulatory requirements of the jurisdiction in which you operate (feel free to contact us if you need assistance with understanding HSE compliance requirements for your specific operations and jurisdiction).

First, it is important to be aware of the key legislation pertaining to duty of care.  The overarching requirements for all companies operating in the UAE are given in UAE Federal Decree-Law No. 33 of 2021 Regarding the Regulation of Employment Relationships as per the following definitions and articles:

Ministry: Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation

Employer: Every natural or legal person, who employs one or more workers in return for a wage.

Worker: Every natural person authorised by the Ministry to work for one of the licensed establishments in the State, under supervision and direction of the employer.

Workplace: The work location agreed upon in the employment contract, or in which the worker undertakes the agreed tasks and services for the employer.

Work Injury: Being exposed to one of the occupational diseases specified in the table issued by a resolution of the Cabinet, or any other injuries arising therefrom, due to or occurring in the course of work. Any injury should be considered a work injury if it is proven that the accident happened to the worker during the period of his commute to and from work, without interruption or deviation from the normal route.

Article 13: Employer’s Obligations 

The employer shall comply with the following:

  1. Providing the necessary means of prevention to protect workers from the risks of occupational diseases and injuries that may occur during work, ensuring the provision of regulations on guidance and awareness, providing appropriate training for workers to avoid such risks, conducting periodic evaluation to ensure that all parties to the employment relationship comply with and meet the requirements of health and occupational security and safety, in accordance with the provisions of this Decree-Law, its Implementing Regulation and the legislation in force in this regard;
  2. Providing a safe and appropriate work environment; and
  3. Any other obligations stipulated under the provisions of this Decree-Law, its Implementing Regulation, resolutions of the Cabinet or any other legislation in force in the State.

Article 36: Care, Safety and Professionalism.

Establishments shall abide by the provisions contained in Federal Law No. 13 of 2020 regarding public health and all resolutions issued for the implementation thereof and any other legislation issued in this regard. The Implementing Regulation hereof defines the role of the Ministry and the provisions related to the safety, protection and health care of workers.

Article 37  Compensation for Work Injuries and Occupational Diseases

  1. Under a resolution of the Cabinet, based on the Minister’s proposal and in coordination with the concerned authorities, work injuries and occupational diseases, conditions and procedures to be followed in case any of them occur, the obligations of the employer in this regard, the amount of compensation due to the worker in case of permanent full or partial disability, compensation payable to his family in case of his death and the rules for its distribution and amount, shall be defined.
  2. The employer shall, in case the worker has a work injury or an occupational disease:
  3. Bear the expenses of the worker’s treatment until he recovers and is able to return to work or proves his disability, in accordance with the conditions, rules and procedures specified by the Implementing Regulation hereof.
  4. If the work injury or occupational disease prevents the worker from performing his work, the employer shall pay to the worker an amount equivalent of his full wage throughout the treatment period or for (6) six months, whichever is less. If the treatment period exceeds (6) six months, the worker shall obtain half wage for another (6) six months, or until the worker is cured or his disability or death is proven, whichever is earlier.
  5. If the work injury or occupational disease led to the death of the worker, his family shall be entitled to compensation equal to the basic wage of the worker for (24) twenty-four months, provided that the compensation amount is not less than (AED 18,000) eighteen thousand UAE Dirham and not more than (AED 200,000) two hundred thousand UAE Dirham. The compensation amount is calculated according to the basic wage that the worker was receiving before his death and the compensation is distributed among the eligible beneficiaries of the deceased worker according to the Implementing Regulation hereof, while preserving the rights of the deceased’s family in the end of service benefits and any other financial entitlements payable to the worker.

Article 38 Cases of the Worker’s Non-entitlement of Work Injury Compensation

The worker shall not be entitled to work injury compensation if it is proven through the investigations of the competent authorities that any of the following cases takes place:

  1. The worker deliberately caused injury to himself for any reason.
  2. The injury took place under the influence of alcohol, narcotics or other psychotropic substances.
  3. The injury took place as a result of a deliberate violation of the declared preventive instructions at visible areas in the workplace, as defined by the Implementing Regulation hereof.
  4. The injury took place as a result of willful misconduct by the worker.
  5. The worker refused, without a serious reason, to be examined or follow the treatment specified by the medical entity.

Article 63:  Any person, who violates any other provision of this Decree- Law, its Implementing Regulation and the resolutions issued for its implementation, shall be punished with a fine of not less than (AED 5,000) five thousand UAE Dirham and not more than (AED 1,000,000) one million UAE Dirham.

Article 64:  In case of repeating any of the violations mentioned in this Decree-Law, its Implementing Regulation and the resolutions issued for its implementation, before the lapse of one year since the perpetrator of a similar violation has been punished, then the perpetrator shall be punished by imprisonment, along with doubling the fine stipulated herein or one of these penalties.

Article 66:  Approved Language

  1. The employer shall use the Arabic language…in writing and publishing instructions and circulars which it shall issue, provided that there shall be another language, beside the Arabic, which is understood by the non-Arabic speaking worker, taking into account that the text in the other language matches the Arabic text.

The main implementing regulation, Cabinet Resolution No. 1 of 2022 On the Implementing Regulation of Federal Decree-Law No. 33 of 2021 provides additional details on the labor law requirements, including:

Article 22 Safety, Protection and Health Care of Workers. 

Subject to the provisions of Article (36) of the Decree-Law:

  1. Every employer shall:
  2. Provide the necessary means of prevention to protect workers from the risks of injuries and occupational diseases that may occur during working hours, as well as the fire hazards and the other risks that may result from the use of the machines and other work tools. He shall likewise use all the other methods of prevention prescribed by the Ministry in this regard.
  3. Put in a visible place at the workplace detailed and clear instructions on the means of preventing fires and protecting workers from the risks they may be exposed to while on duty, the methods of preventing them and the manner of dealing with accidents caused by them, provided that the instructions are in Arabic and in another language that the workers understand when necessary. He shall likewise put warning signs ahead of the hazardous areas.
  4. Inform his workers prior to commencement of duty of the risks of their occupation, such as fire hazards, machines, risks of falls, occupational diseases and others.
  5. Entrust first-aid supervision to a medical aid specialist, and provide all the necessary supplies in each first aid kit.
  6. Provide the necessary means to prevent fires as well as the appropriate extinguishers for the materials found at the establishment and the materials used in the industries.
  7. Take the necessary measures to continually ensure that the conditions in the workplace provide adequate health and safety protection for the workers working at the establishment.
  8. Take the appropriate practical measures to prevent, reduce or eliminate health hazards in the workplace.
  9. Take the necessary precautions to protect the workers from the risks of falling, falling objects, flying shards, sharp objects, caustic or hot liquids, flammable or explosive materials or any other materials with a harmful effect, and take the necessary precautions to protect the workers from hazards of compressed gases and electricity.
  10. Put signs at the location of the machines or the location of the various operations showing the type of necessary technical instructions in Arabic and in another language that the workers understand when necessary.

Article 23 Work Injuries.

Subject to the provisions of Articles (37) and (38) of the Decree-Law:

  1. In the event that the worker suffers a work injury or an occupational disease, the employer shall pay the costs of treatment of the worker pursuant to the following conditions and rules:
  2. The worker shall follow the orders and instructions related to work security and safety precautions and he shall use the means of prevention and undertake to take care of those in his possession. The worker shall be prohibited from any act that results in the failure to follow the instructions or in the misuse, damage or destruction of the means designed to protect the health and safety of workers.
  3. The worker shall not be entitled to compensation for a work injury if it is established through the competent authorities that the injury resulted from a deliberate violation of the preventive instructions put in visible places at the workplace, provided that the employer complies with the following rules:
  4. Making the worker aware of the detailed instructions on the means of preventing fires, and protecting him from the risks he may be exposed to while on duty, in Arabic and in another language that the worker understands when necessary.
  5. Informing the worker prior to commencement of work of the risks of his occupation and requiring him to use the prescribed means of prevention as well as providing the appropriate personal protective equipment for workers and training them to use such equipment.
  6. Training the worker on the safety methods set out in the instructions on worker protection.
  7. Educating the worker, upon his employment, about the risks of his occupation and the means of protection he is required to use, and placing detailed written instructions in this regard at the workplace.

The labor law and its implementing regulation described above pertain to all employers in UAE, regardless of location, type and number of employees.

Further details on requirements for establishments with 50 or more workers are given in Ministerial Resolution No. (657) of 2022 on Rules and Guidelines to Deal with Work Injuries & Occupational Diseases:

Article 1 Channels for reporting Work Injuries & Occupational Diseases

All establishments must keep a record of reports concerning work-related injuries and occupational diseases on the Ministry’s system…

Article 2 Obligations of the Employer in Respect of Work Injuries & Occupational Diseases

The employer shall:

  1. Ensure that establishments with 50 or more workers adopt a special system for monitoring work injuries and occupational diseases provided that this system includes the following:
  2. Record of work-related injuries and occupational diseases
  3. Necessary preventive tools and hands-on training programs for workers engaged in high-risk activities
  4. An inventory of all activities that are dangerous to the health and safety of workers
  5. Number of workers performing hazardous jobs
  6. A mechanism for periodic health examination of workers engaged in hazardous activities
  7. A mechanism to promptly report work injuries and occupational diseases incidents within the establishments
  8. A mechanism to investigate incidents of work injuries, occupational diseases and take necessary measures to protect other workers from such injuries or diseases
  9. A mechanism to obtain a report from the competent medical committees that shows the level of disability in the event of a work injury or occupational diseases
  10. A log for periodic medical examination of workers
  11. A record of workers exposed to occupational hazards for a period of not less than 5 years after the termination of their service
  12. A document to the worker at the end of his service, showing the period of his service in the establishment performing such a hazardous job

Dubai, Abu Dhabi and to a lesser extent some of the other Emirates and various free zones within the UAE have developed many additional laws and regulations that expand upon these requirements, but for the purpose of this blog post these are not considered herein.

So, what does this really mean to a company operating in the UAE (and by inference in the GCC)?

  • All entities are required to provide a safe and healthy environment at the primary workplace for employees, contractors and visitors to the workplace. Duty of care applies to all entities regardless of size, type and location.
  • Duty of care applies to the entity’s workers traveling to and from the workplace, and the workplace may be at the primary location of the entity’s facilities, a customer’s facility, the employees’ home, or anywhere else employees are carrying work on behalf of the entity.
  • Key employer obligations to protect workers from risks of injuries and occupational diseases that may occur during working hours, include:
    • Place signage around the workplace, including: (1) instructions on fire prevention (2) instructions on how protect workers from the risks they may be exposed to while on duty, (3) instructions on how to deal with accidents, (4) warning signs at access points leading to hazardous work areas, and (5) warning signs at machines or areas of machines and instructions for safe use of the machinery.
    • Ensure that the signage is in Arabic and, if and as needed, one or more languages that the workers understand.
    • Provide training to workers on workplace hazards and how risks associated with the hazards are managed.
    • Ensure trained first-aiders and adequate first aid kits are available on site.
    • Provide means to prevent and extinguish fires.
    • Monitor the workplace to ensure that the health and safety provisions are adequate and are being followed by the workforce.
    • Assess and identify workplace hazards, and provide measures to prevent, reduce or eliminate these hazards to acceptable levels of risk.
    • Develop and implement a system for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses to the authorities.
    • If needed, pay compensation related to worker injuries or occupational illness.
    • For companies with more than 50 employees, develop a system for monitoring work injuries and occupational diseases.

Below is a simple compliance checklist that can be used by entities across the GCC as a starting point to assess and manage potential compliance with local HSE regulatory requirements.

For those managing lower-risk entities, e.g., small office, this list may be sufficient for your needs.  But, for higher-risk facilities, this checklist is far from complete, as each jurisdiction may have much more extensive requirement as part of the local competent authority’s implementing regulations for the labor law.   Regardless, it can serve as a starting point for a more thorough compliance audit (See our blog post: How to Carry Out Your Own HSE Compliance Audit).

Duty of Care Compliance Audit Simplified Checklist

(1) Have workplace hazards been identified?  

Note that this includes all areas where workers carry out work activities for the employer, including all employer facilities,  travel to/from the job site, at the  customers site, and/or home-based offices where applicable?

There are no prescriptive requirements for how this is done, but typically involves some or all of the following approaches: risk assessment, experience at other locations, experience with similar industries, site walkovers, etc.

(2) Where workplace hazards have been identified, are processes in place to reduce/eliminate/manage risks to workers or others that may be exposed to those hazards?

There are often no prescriptive requirements for how this is done, but typically involves some or all of the following approaches: training, signage, restricted site access, barriers, PPE, safe work procedures, etc.

(3) Is the workplace monitored to ensure that procedures in place to manage risk are adequate and being followed by the workforce?

This is one of the main job functions of the HSE personnel on site.  For smaller entities that lack designated HSE personnel, this responsibility can be assigned to managers or other interested personnel and can be accomplished via checklists, toolbox talks, external audits, etc.

(4) Are workers provided with induction and refresher training on workplace hazards and on the means to control the associated risks?

The training should be done to a level consistent with the hazards at the site, documented, in Arabic and one or more other languages as needed, and training records maintained.

(5) Are contractors and visitors to the workplace made aware of workplace hazards and requirements to minimize risks associated with the hazards?

This can be accomplished by providing a simple safety brochure or brief to visitors and requiring visitors to sign-in to confirm their understanding of the site hazards and safety controls at the site.

(6) Is there a procedure in place to treat and handle injured workers, including trained first aiders and adequately provisioned and maintained first aid kits?

There needs to be at least one trained first aider on site (or readily available) at all times, and they are also responsible for inspecting and maintain the first aid kits, i.e., ensuring that contents have not expired and are replenished after use.

(7) Is PPE provided to workers/contractors/visitors, as needed to protect them from machinery, equipment, exposure to chemicals, and/or other hazards faced at the worksite?

(8) Are instructions posted at the worksite related to preventing and dealing with fires?

This may include evacuation routes, fire routes and exit signs, use of fire alarms and fire extinguishers, steps to take in the event of a fire, etc.

(9) Are instructions posted on how protect workers from the hazards they may be exposed to at the worksite?

Examples of these instruction may include proper handling procedures for manual lifting, electrical safety, work at height, ladder safety, road hazards, requirements for PPE, machinery use and guarding, hazardous materials storage and handling, compressed gasses, etc.

(10) Are instructions posted on how to deal with accidents?

This should at a minimum include names and contact numbers for first aiders, clinics, hospitals, ambulances, etc.

(11) Are warning signs posted at access points leading to hazardous work areas?

Examples include areas with elevated noise levels, hazardous materials, slippery surfaces, vehicles, energized machinery/equipment, etc.

(12) Are the signs and work instructions listed above posted in Arabic and, if necessary, another language or languages that non-Arabic workers understand?    

(13) Are fire detection, fire alarms and fire suppression systems available and in good condition, and are they regularly inspected and maintained by a qualified vendor?

An Annual Maintenance Contract (AMC) with a Civil Defense approved fire safety vendor, and records of their monthly/quarterly/annual inspection and maintenance actions provides evidence for compliance.

(14) Are fire extinguishers available and appropriate for their use based on the fire hazards at the facility? 

Civil Defense approval of the fire safety systems and inspection and maintenance records of the fire extinguishers provides evidence for compliance.

(15) Are procedures in place to report workplace injuries and illnesses to the authorities?

Reporting procedures should be defined beforehand so that prompt action can be taken as required in the event of an incident.

Thanks for reading.  Keep safe.  Be healthy.  Respect your environment.

I hope that you will bookmark the blog, share it with your colleagues and visit the blog frequently because you find it informative and helpful.  I value your feedback and suggestions for future topics.

Please enter your email in the box at the top of the post and subscribe to our blog HSE Asia – our weekly blog will be emailed directly to you.

Photo Credits: Duty of Care by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Randall D. Shaw, Ph.D.
Posted in Environment, GCC, General, HSE, Laws and Regulations, Middle East, Occupational Health, Worker Safety and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *