Safety standards under the scope

A post-Ivan increase in the number of construction companies and an accompanying rise in industrial accidents have prompted the government to host a five-day safety course.

The Department of Employment Relations has organised this week’s Occupational Safety and Health Trainer Construction Standard and Safety Management Course, which offers a comprehensive review of the industry.

Department director Walling Whittaker wants to see the construction industry meet all the relevant safety standards.

‘Since Hurricane Ivan, there has been an increase in the number of construction workers and also an increase in the number of new construction companies.

‘There has also been an increase in the number of accidents and, regrettably, also in the number of deaths in the construction industry,’ Mr. Whittaker said.

He hopes to address this issue by training his staff on the background and implementation of all relevant standards.

‘We want to train staff on the most modern and up-to-date safety practices within the construction industry and they will train the private sector.

‘It will become mandatory for each private company to have someone trained in construction safety,’ he said.

Conducting the course this week is Carlstien Lutchmedial, a certified safety professional, who is with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and has been lecturing on safety for 17 years.

‘In most Caribbean countries, we don’t really have comprehensive safety programmes,’ Mr. Lutchmedial said.

Even in his home country of Trinidad, which has the largest methanol industry in the world, there is no enforcement of safety laws, he explained.

‘It is not that easy to develop laws and a good enforcement organisation, and develop rules and regulations to monitor safety,’ he said.

Through the seminar, he hopes to teach those attending how to understand and use the regulations in a practical way. If they pass a test at the end of the course, they will receive OSHA certification to run safety training courses in the construction industry.

‘Trainers need to be able to explain safety hazards and the safety precautions needed. Communication is the most important thing,’ Mr. Lutchmedial said.

In addition to teaching the trainers about all the relevant rules and standards, he will also help them learn how to disseminate the information to the workers.

”Don’t cite the regulations. Workers want to know how this will hurt me and understand if they have to wear gloves, what are they used for?’ he explained.

During the week, Mr. Lutchmedial will be discussing such aspects of construction safety as accident investigation, training techniques, fall protection, steel erection, scaffolds, and demolition and blasting.

Attending the seminar were staff of the employment relations department including compliance officers, and conciliation and mediation officers, as well as a representative of the planning department, all of whom are familiar with the working environment.

Starting next month, those who qualify after this seminar will run 10-hour training courses in construction safety for private industry professionals in Cayman.

Among the safety concerns that Mr. Whittaker hopes to address are the mandatory and proper use of safety equipment; correct erection of scaffolding; proper operation of hoists, cranes and lifting devices; and protection from falls.

‘The equipment should be inspected every quarter and before each job to ensure proper working conditions in accordance with the manufacturers’ specifications. As a country, we haven’t been doing that,’ he said.

In addition, Mr. Whittaker wants employers to become aware of the psychological state of their workers and whether they are fit to perform their job safely.

‘The whole issue of the mental state of the worker is not addressed here – if they are tired, stressed, have been up drinking the night before, or if their job is monotonous which would cause them to lose their concentration,’ he said.

The course for the private industry can help with these concerns.

‘The 10-hour course will train people to assess and evaluate each risk and take steps to minimize the risk,’ Mr. Whittaker said.

The courses will also ensure that the industry is aware of all the regulations.

‘The labour law has provisions for good standards of health and safety, but the department has not been that firm in enforcing that portion of the law. It hadn’t been a key priority pre-Ivan.’

The department has conducted surveys and inspections of construction work sites over the past six months to assess the level of safety standards, he added.

‘There is little adherence to proper workplace safety standards at the construction sites. There is a lack of awareness of what equipment to use and how to use it for each job,’ he said.

Mr. Whittaker is determined to improve industry safety.

‘As we sit here and discuss many instances we can recall, someone has left home for work with the intention of returning at the end of the day and they won’t.

‘It is the responsibility of this department that that shouldn’t happen. No one should lose their life or limb at their place of work,’ he said.