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Looking Back at 2012: Recent Developments in EHS in Saudi Arabia

March 7, 2013
When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia developed a comprehensive framework for measuring and monitoring environmental hazards, the new or updated regulations included a newfound focus on sustainability.

In 2012, Saudia Arabia acknowledged the need for a comprehensive framework for measuring and monitoring environmental challenges. As a result, the country has adopted a comprehensive list of standards and guidance, regulating an array of environmental challenges ranging from air pollution to wastewater management to transportation of chemicals.

See Also: Occupational Health Safety Standards & Regulations

The regulations include measures to ensure an efficient use of its natural resources, prevention of depletion and sustainable development. In fact, most of the regulations issued include components to promote sustainability.


Ambient Air Standard 2012 – This standard,  which was published and made mandatory on March 24, 2012, relates specifically to the ambient air quality in Saudi Arabia.  It prescribes limit values for ambient air quality parameters and establishes the responsibilities of the Presidency of Metrology and Environment (PME) with regard to managing ambient air quality in the kingdom. The standard provides a basis for the maintenance and restoration of ambient air quality in an effort to prevent or reduce harmful effects on human health and the environment. It introduces new limits for companies that are required to manage their emissions. 

However, if the company performs one of the exempted activities, the limits stated by this standard would not apply.  The standard exempts from limitations dispersion zones (which are authorized by the PME), indoor air and natural events.  A different standard related to air quality that was adopted on the same day and made mandatory for all new equipment purchases relates to the control of emissions from mobile sources.

Standard on Emissions from Mobile Sources 2012 – The Standard on Mobile Sources Emissions requires companies to reduce their emissions to required levels and to properly maintain their equipment to ensure emissions reduction. The standard presents a framework for sustainable management of mobile sources.  It sets out emission limit values depending upon the engine type and capacity. Companies are required to ensure that the emissions of their mobile sources are in compliance with the emission limits for all new equipment.

Companies have 5 years to bring existing equipment in line with the new emissions limits. The standard introduces emission limits for pieces of equipment used outdoors and with a goal of protecting, maintaining and improving the environment and public health. The emissions sources included in the standard are mobile generators, agricultural machinery and large earthmoving equipment. The emission limits include those for diesel engines, small and large gasoline engines and recreational vehicles not included in Saudi Arabia Standard Organization (SASO) standards.

General Environmental Standard for Noise 2012 – This standard, which introduced noise emission limits and was made mandatory March 24, 2012, regulates community noise, noise from industrial units in areas set aside primarily for industrial facilities, noise from construction activities, noise from vehicles (including motorized vessels and recreational craft) and noise from equipment used outdoors. The standard issued by the PME provides a basis for statutory control to restrict and reduce the nuisance caused by environmental noise. The standard does not address the issue of occupational noise, which is regulated by national health and safety laws. Furthermore, the standard does not extend to noise related to public transportation, including noise from highways and railways and noise from commercial and private aircraft, including helicopters (both in flight and operating on the ground). The standard also exempts some activities, including calls for prayer and sporting events. 


Water National Ambient Water Quality Standard of 2012 – This standard, which also went into effect on March 24, 2012,  includes a framework for the sustainable management of ambient water quality by protecting the water supply and the natural aquatic environment.  It provides a basis for the restoration of water used for recreational, agricultural, industrial, potable and ecological purposes. This standard applies to all coastal and underground water and includes any surface freshwater that may be present permanently or temporarily.

Wastewater Discharge Standard of 2012 – Companies and employees discharging wastewater now are subject to the Wastewater Discharge Standard, which took effect March 24, 2012. The standard sets out use-related criteria and specific limits on individual discharges designed to protect water quality. Liquid waste generators are required to comply with the emissions limits and permit requirements, as well as any reuse or conservation requirements. Notably, if a facility cannot restrict its emissions to the limits stated in the standard, it was required to obtain a permit by June 24, 2012.

Chemical  Management

The Technical Guideline of 2012 on the Prevention of Major Accidents – In the case of activities involving the manufacturing, processing, using, storing or handling of dangerous substances irrespective of their size or location, it now is required to take necessary actions to prevent major accidents, such as the release of toxic materials, the release of flammable materials, fires, explosions, major structural failures and any accident that involves dangerous substances.

The standard is mandatory for all facilities storing or handling hazardous chemicals in excess of the threshold values. The Technical Guideline on the Prevention of Major Accidents intends to reduce and prevent accidents involving dangerous substances. The guideline states that there are different categories of companies varying from lower tier to higher tier based on the threshold levels. The standard took effect March 24, 2012

The Standard on Waste Transportation 2012 – Hazardous, non-hazardous and inert waste transporters must comply with the updated Framework for Waste Transportation in Saudi Arabia. The Standard on Waste Transportation adopted by the Presidency of Metrology and Environment monitors and controls waste movement to protect both human health and the environment, as well as to provide consistent standard requirements for hazardous substances regarding the classification and labeling of waste to facilitate the movement of waste and dangerous goods inside and outside the country.

Companies now are required to comply with the labeling and classification requirements regarding the waste transported, necessary documentation for the waste transported, vehicle safety and the drivers’ training and certification. The standard’s main purpose is to reduce road accidents involving waste transporters, to provide waste transporters with a consistent system regarding waste classification and waste labeling and to facilitate trans-boundary waste movement, as well as to simplify waste transportation processes to ensure easier compliance.  

Waste Treatment and Disposal

The Environmental Standards on Material Recovery and Recycling of Waste 2012 – Companies operating in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia might have to comply in the near future with the new waste disposal and treatment procedures. The Presidency of Meteorology and Environment has issued a guidance document, which is intended to be the foundation for the development of best environmental practices in relation to waste recovery and recycling.

Although the document does not have a direct impact on industries, since it is based on the internationally recognized waste management hierarchy including prevention, recycling, treatment and disposal, it might serve as the basis for the adoption of future provisions impacting all industry sectors. The Environmental Standards on Material Recovery and Recycling of Waste became effective March 24, 2012.

The Biological Treatment Standard of 2012 – Biological treatment and incineration facilities must comply with a series of new requirements relating to the design, location, operation and closure of such facilities. The biological treatment standard provides requirements related to the treatment and disposal of biodegradable waste. The requirements apply to the pre-development of a new biological treatment facility that receives and handles biodegradable waste. However, operators of existing facilities must implement the requirements wherever and whenever that is feasible.

The standard offers design parameters and operational requirements for biological treatment facilities in Saudi Arabia. It applies to privately operated as well as publicly operated biological treatment facilities. The standard does not apply, however, to domestic biological processes, such as home composting initiatives undertaken by householders at their places of residence. &

Saudi Arabia is one of the leading countries in the Middle East region, and many developing countries are following in its steps. The fact that it has adopted this abundant number of regulations indicates that it is getting ready to take its environmental issues more seriously. Companies should be on the lookout for a more stringent enforcement system and, more importantly, use the guidance issued to prepare an internal policy that can be the basis for a compliance program to be ready by the time the mandatory requirements take effect.

Sanaa Chakibi is a lead regulatory consultant in the Washington, D.C., office of Enhesa Inc., where she specializes in the Middle East and North Africa regions. Chakibi monitors environmental, health and safety regulatory developments throughout the Middle East and North Africa. She holds a master’s degree from the George Washington Law School, a bachelor’s in private law (Licence en Droit Prive) from the Hassan II University in Casablanca, Morocco, and is a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association.<

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