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posted 26 May 2020, 08:36 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 26 May 2020, 08:48 ]
The Ministry of Health recently issued what it calls Guidelines for Businesses/Facilities/Institutions Reopening after lifting of Restrictions Post Covid 19.  The National Workers Union asked for and received views from two workers; one in the construction industry and the other in a process plant environment.

FROM THE CONSTRUCTION SECTOR: "I have read the guidelines issued by the Ministry and found them to be sound and consistent with the general objectives set by the government in response to the pandemic.  For the construction industry each firm, project team and their risk management team needs to conduct a proper project-specific hazard identification, risk assessment and prepare job specific procedures which are to be deployed to protect all on-site workers on a day to day basis.

Many large corporate entities already have documented Safety Policies with relevant Standard Operating Procedures which address their specific operations. These are usually created by and driven with input from professionals, technical workers and other stakeholders in their industry with the objective of protecting health and safety (and sometimes the environment) to enable profitable business.  For Small and Medium Enterprise operators the guidelines should be issued as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) regulations with immediate effect and coupled with adequate enforcement resources to force compliance across the industry. This last comment addresses a wider issue that already plagues our OSH laws and applies to before and after this pandemic.

The defect of the OSH Act is that it is ‘directive' and not ‘prescriptive' in nature and therefore is devoid of the many legal and statute regulations with attendant enforcement mechanisms and penalties for violations, that will ensure workers health and safety on the job. It is a defect that requires a campaign and direct action by trade unions for its remedying since the act was proclaimed as far back as 2006.

When the act was proclaimed the agency itself admitted that unlike the United States OSHA and its legal power as a US Code of Federal Rules which drill down into actual details of what 'shall', 'should’ and 'may' be done specifically to address hazards and risks, our law is directive.  Our law is 'directive' because it gives general directions and not specific procedural and engineering prescriptions to eliminate or mitigate hazards in each specific situation. Unlike in other jurisdictions, no section and clause of our Act prescribes, for example, the height at which a safety harness must be deployed, width of safe work platform on scaffolding, toe board height, etc.

There is nothing equivalent to the US Department of Transport and Office of Pipeline Safety, for example, that covers construction, maintenance and operations of the extensive pipeline networks spread out over our onshore and marine territory. Our OSH statute does not drill down to details like that and our so-called labour leaders have never seen that as an issue worthy of pursuing a campaign to redress for the benefit of workers or citizens.”

FROM THE PROCESS PLANT ENVIRONMENT: “As it relates to work place environments with shift teams, there are clear challenges with maintaining 6 feet distancing in control room work stations which are usually small and tight. The shared responsibilities of dual operations, for example, opening valves, calibrating transmitters, will see persons in breach of social distancing.

Face shields are being given out and the impact of additional personal protective equipment (PPE) which would not have been normally worn over extended periods has not yet been fully understood. This includes weight on head gear; challenges with breathing through N95 masks for respiratory challenged persons; working with tools and having to adjust additional (PPE), as now hands have to be sanitized. In the past such stringent controls would not have been needed.”

We would appreciate views on the guidelines from other occupational sectors, for example, workers in the utilities – electricity, water, public transport; workers in manufacturing – factories, assembly lines, warehousing etc.; workers in clerical occupations; workers in catering; workers in cleaning and janitorial; sanitation workers etc. Responses would be greatly appreciated.
Gerry Kangalee,
26 May 2020, 08:36