Construction safety on verge of collapse
(CNS): The system for inspecting and monitoring safety on local construction sites is near to collapse, the complaints commissioner has revealed in a new report from her office. She said that the state of the regulatory infrastructure on health and safety in the construction industry in the Cayman Islands is so bad that workers lives are at risk. In only her second report since taking up office more than three years ago, Nicola Williams has highlighted a list of weaknesses in government that means sites are not being properly inspected.
“Health and Safety in construction affects not only workers employed in this industry, but also members of the general public who could be injured – or worse – from falling masonry, unsecured scaffolding,” Williams reports, pointing to the collapse of scaffolding in Anderson Square, George Town last year.
Her report also comes in the wake of another serious construction accident last month when a man was critically injured after the crane he was operating flipped over in George in Sheddon Road.
Williams has made a number of recommendations to rectify the weaknesses and says the current overhaul of the Department of Employment Services presents the perfect opportunity to implement new policies to address the problem. Expressing concern, however, over the lack of resources, she said it is difficult to see how the new department would be more effective in carrying out inspection and enforcement without new cash.
“The Inspectorate still remains inadequately staffed for the amount of work it will be expected to undertake,” Williams warns.
Acknowledging that all government departments are expected to do more with less, Williams points out that the construction industry is a high-risk one and no price can be placed on human life.
“Of all the work the Department undertakes, any failings on their part in this area have the potential to be the most damaging to its reputation,” she wrote. “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.”
During the process of compiling the report the Office of the Complaints Commissioner (OCC) found a need for inspectors to improve their working relationship with the legal department to present complete instructions and be more proactive about pressing cases through to prosecution.
The report also found deficiencies in training, with DER staff demonstrating poor awareness when it comes to the importance of international laws and conventions on construction safety and inspection. She warned that there was nothing to indicate that things had improved with the name change to the Department of Labour and Pensions.
While the OCC said there is collective experience, the department must better demonstrate its professionalism across the board.
“Labour Inspectors must carry out more proactive investigations, improve the quality of reports where necessary, maintain valid 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,” the report states. Weaknesses were also identified in the “inadequate and inefficient” filing system at the department.
While the new department is in its infancy, the OCC has made a number of recommendations that it says will be easier to implement at this stage, demonstrating a clear commitment to proper regulation.
Firstly, Williams said, the Department of Labour and Pensions (DLP) should establish a dedicated Health and Safety Unit. “This is perhaps the single most important recommendation. Even a small unit comprised of two Labour Inspectors, one senior, would enable them and DLP as a whole, to be more proactive – preventing accidents from happening rather than reacting to incidents after the fact,” she wrote.
Secondly, she pointed to the need for improved training, as well as better resources, equipment and transportation, including oxygen meters, light meters, noise level meters and HD cameras.
Williams also addressed the controversial area of labour inspectors owning or running construction companies, which she said was a serious professional breach. Williams said there was evidence that this had already created a conflict of interest. The report said that in the opinions canvassed from some victims of construction site, accidents inspectors involved in the business turned a blind eye in some cases.
She said the DLP should implement a policy to ban future workers from running or having interests in construction companies. There are existing staff engaged in the construction industry outside their core work but to dismiss them or ask them to immediately relinquish their interests would be too draconian so she recommended an effective register of interests.
It was also recommended that inspectors move back to being specialists, where health and safety is concerned, rather than this being one of many jobs that the staff do. This is supported by the employment ministry but Williams found it had not yet taken place in any practical way.
The report further recommends changes to give the new department director the power to close an entire worksite as well as a requirement for all construction companies, no matter what size, to keep records. Fines also need to be increased to a level where they are "a painful disincentive" to compel employers to comply and the failure by a company to appoint a safety officer should be an offence.
In addition, employers who routinely and deliberately flout their health and safety obligations, risking people’s lives, should not get Trade & Business licenses or work permits. Whistleblowers also need to be protected in law with penalties being introduced for victimization of those who report wrongdoing.
“However, it must also be noted that a number of both current and past members of the Department have expressed concerns with the level of confidentiality within the Department itself,” Williams wrote in the report. “This is unhelpful, unfortunate and unprofessional. There is little point in legislative change in this area if this continues to be a problem within the new DLP.”
See the full report below.
|OCC Health & Safety Report- June 2012.pdf||725.37 KB|
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