On the wake of the latest construction incident involving a bucket lift that flipped over outside the CIBC First Caribbean Bank building in George Town on Sunday 29th July, bringing down power lines and sending the operator of the lift into hospital with critical injuries, the complaints commissioner revealed a new report from her office.
Nicola Williamson, the Complaints Commissioner, said â€śthe state of Health and Safety in the construction industry in the Cayman Islands â€“ a regulatory infrastructure which, if not improved, could collapse at any moment.â€ť
The photograph on the cover of her Report entitled â€śDANGER: CONSTRUCTION AT WORKâ€ť was of the collapse of scaffolding outside of the Anderson Square building on 4 June 2010. Please see todayâ€™s (11) story â€śOwn Motion Investigation by Complaints Commissionerâ€ť which publishes the first 11 pages of the Report and a photograph of the incident.
The report states that Caymanâ€™s construction industry has a regulatory infrastructure on health and safety that is so bad all workers lives are at risk. And it is not only construction workers who are at risk. So is the public. Falling masonry and scaffolding collapses were highlighted.
With the present budgetary constraints I share Williamsonâ€™s concerns that even though she has made a number of recommendations to rectify the weaknesses in the current inspection system it is difficult to see how the overhaul of the Department of Employment Services can be more effective. Without cash it is impossible to increase inspections and enforcement because it would involve more employment of new officers.
However, Williamson says, no price can be placed on human life. This is the same argument the Police Commissioner, David Baines, has used, without any affect so far, in his response to the proposed axing of the RCIPS helicopter.
â€śOf all the work the Department undertakes,â€ť she says, â€śAny failings on their part in this area have the potential to be the most damaging to its reputation. If there is an accident on a construction site due to negligence or failure to comply with Health and Safety standards that could have been prevented by a more robust programme of inspections, it is possible that not only the offending construction company, but also the Department and the Ministry, could be subject to legal action.â€ť
So what is she going to do to make the situation better?
â€śLabour Inspectors must carry out more proactive investigations, improve the quality of reports where necessary, maintain valid [Occupational Safety & Health Administration] OSHA training certificates, minimize time spent on negotiations, and conduct a comprehensive outreach programme which must have the full and active involvement of those at Assistant Director level and above.â€ť
She also addressed the outrageous practice of labour inspectors owning or running construction companies. Yes, you did read that right.
â€śIn the opinions canvassed from some victims of construction site accidents, inspectors involved in the business turned a blind eye in some cases.â€ť
How is it possible this has been allowed to happen? Is it possible it will now be stopped? Is it possible it will be stopped immediately?
Other areas in the report were proper record and file keeping by both government and the construction companies, improved training, better resources, equipment and transportation, including oxygen meters, light meters, noise level meters and HD cameras, the Department of Labour and Pensions (DLP) should establish a dedicated Health and Safety Unit, inspectors move back to being specialists (not this being one of a number of jobs they do) and employers who routinely and deliberately flout their health and safety obligations, risking peopleâ€™s lives, should not get Trade & Business licenses or work permits.
All the Complaints Commissionerâ€™s recommendations are very worthy. The majority and the ones that would have the most impact also require funds. Where is that going to come from? A tax (whoops sorry) a â€śconstruction safety enhancement feeâ€ť on every company in the building and construction industry?
The major problem with that at this precise moment is that there is very little construction work. But there is the Chinese coming here to construct our cruise ship berthing and what of their safety record.