Construction sites to be inspected

Construction companies have three months to study, comment on and follow guidelines of a Draft Occupational Safety & Health Code of Practice for the industry.

After that, in October, the Department of Employment Relations will start a worksite inspection programme.

Walling Whittaker, Director of Employment Relations, made the announcement on Wednesday at a meeting attended by more than 50 people in the construction industry.

Mr. Whittaker pointed to the dramatic growth of the industry since Hurricane Ivan. The number of construction workers on Grand Cayman increased by 460 per cent between August 2004 and March 2005 – to 4,496 from 803.

The number of construction companies, according to Trade and Business Licence records, is now 760.

The concern is that many of the workers may be untrained and some of the new companies may be operating with unsafe practices. Already there have been two industry-related deaths, Mr. Whittaker reminded his audience, and numerous accidents. ‘It has become urgent that we give this close attention,’ he said.

To deal with the situation, informal meetings have been held with large and small contractors and government building officials, he advised. The result is the draft code of practice, based on guidelines from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the safety manual of Fluor Inc.

People in the audience generally accepted the need for job safety, but questioned who would bear the cost and whether the code would be enforced.

Apart from the cost of safety equipment, the time to do a job could also be affected, several men pointed out. A man in a safety harness, for example, may not be able to move as quickly as a man without one; the job may take twice as long and therefore cost twice as much for labour.

Some people suggested that the public could be educated to see the advantage of hiring companies that do follow a safety code. Others thought that a home builder would prefer to hire the company with a lower bid and leave safety concerns to someone else.

Several contractors urged enforcement. Otherwise, companies that do abide by the code will face unfair competition from those who do not.

There will be further meetings. People in the industry are invited to review the draft code, discuss it and propose changes. The code covers everything from protective clothing to scaffolding to occupational diseases.

Mr. Whittaker said the department’s goal is to have one person in each company trained and certified in safety. ‘We’re going to have to develop a culture of safety,’ he emphasised.

The first safety training programme takes place 2-3 August.