OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

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How to conduct a Fire Risk Assessment?


How important is it to complete a fire risk assessment?  The Trinidad and Tobago Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2004 as amended in 2006 (OSH ACT); Section 13A, states: Annual Risk Assessment is a requirement of every employer. For the prevention of fire and to become fire safety compliant you have to put systems in place to protect your staff, visitors, customers or occupants from the dangers of fire. Legally it’s a requirement under the OSH ACT, that owner and commercial tenants of premises who are not covered by a current and relevant fire risk assessment can be prosecuted by the enforcing authority (the OSH Agency) where fines of up to $100,000 and/ or imprisonment can be incurred.


Potential ignition sources of heat that could get hot enough to ignite material found in the premises, anything that burns is fuel for a fire. Thus our concerned group of seven individuals (“D” ENFORCERS) armed with our new found knowledge of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), set out to determine what possible risks may pose danger to the students who frequent the Student Activities Centre (SAC) building on a regular basis. Using a risk assessment checklist and a risk rating analysis to conduct a thorough and extensive assessment of the preventative measures, that was put in place, in the event or circumstance of fire. Although the fire hazards were few, we noticed that the NO SMOKING and exits signage were well placed and can be seen by the public.   The following pictures raised concern amongst “D” ENFORCERS members on the safety of students who regularly occupy the SAC area, in the event of some kind of hazard, natural or otherwise.


The above picture is evidence of a fire hazard and the risk of being electrocuted.An electrical panel box with exposed electrical wires in an open cabinet is easily accessed and can be tampered with by anyone.  This can also lead to sparks that can cause unnecessary fire. Our recommendations to those in authority will be to properly implement locks and doors, to ensure secured defenses are put in place to avoid mishaps from happening. To put the necessary signage to inform students that unauthorized personal is not allowed.


Discolored/charred electrical plugs and sockets which pose eminent danger to students who pass by and uses these plugs for their laptops etc.These outlets need to be properly covered, should in case it comes into contact with water. Sometimes these are overlooked but this is a fire hazard with electricity, water and electrical equipment.




We also observed that in the fire extinguisher cabinets it was empty. Fire extinguishers should be strategically positioned in areas closest to the kitchen areas and open doorways to facilitate easy access in case of a fire.  Additionally to our observations, we noticed that no visible fire extinguisher was in the cooking area.

Instructions and signs to use extinguisher and maintenance records should be clearly displayed. We noticed that a fire hose was placed in a corner allowing students to sit in front of it hindering in case of a fire the user has limited access to it. Signage and placement of the fire hoses for easy access in a concealed case, away from students are our recommendations. These hoses should be regularly checked to ensure its working condition and records should be kept.



Also, indisposed used light bulbs were stored next to the cooking areas of the food court as a result of poor housekeeping practice, a clear fire hazard. Also the PA speaker located in an ideal location was not working.  This is important since it is used to conduct fire drills and give evacuation information to students.

It was noticed that there wasn’t  any visible evacuation plan for students to follow nor any indication of fire drills during the course of this year.  Fire can have a devastating impact on human life, and it is therefore vital to make an assessment of those persons at risk if a fire occurs by identifying the number and location of all people who frequent the food court. Also you must take into consideration people who may have difficulty evacuating the premises promptly, such as the elderly, disabled, pregnant people, small children and staff who work alone or anyone who may be in isolated areas for example wash rooms.


  • Let’s evaluate firstly the likelihood of a fire starting by conducting a risk assessment. The premises should be critically inspectedand identify any potential hazard that may cause fire accidents, near misses and may be in breach of the OSH ACT.
  • Once these risks have been evaluated, controlling or removing them if reasonably practicable is the next step. If the hazards cannot be removed measures to reduce the risk should be done by removing or reducing sources of ignitions or by removing the risk to people from fire by using a fire risk rating where the level of fire safety is measured to the risk posed to the safety of the people on the premises. The higher the fire risk, the higher the standards of fire safety measures is required.
  • Having carried out a fire safety risk assessment the findings should be recorded including any action/controlling measures taken. The OSH ACT, Section 26, Fire safety law requires information to be recorded and fire certification is required for the establishment. Also the importance of a proactive approach to occupational safety and health having fully-trained fire wardens as part of an emergency evacuation strategy is seen as important to assist employees who need help in evacuation and fire safety training courses toeducateemployees how to react in an emergency.
  • A review of the fire safety risk assessment should be carried out regularly as stated in the OSH ACT and the establishment action plan should be revised considering changes to the establishment premises that have affected the risk assessment or the fire safety measures used.

Please note, if a fire or a ‘near miss’ occurs, this is an indicator that the existing assessment may be inadequate and insufficient.  A re-assessment should be carried out identifying the cause of any incident and then review, then revise the outcome of the fire safety risk assessment in light of this experience. The Fire Service findings may help inform a review of the fire safety risk assessment.




Pigeons Strike

The lives of many French soldiers are owed to Cher Ami, a pigeon who in World War One, carried a message across enemy lines which resulted in their safety. Even after being shot in the chest and leg, this pigeon continued flying for 25 minutes to get the message back home. For its service, Cher Ami was given the French award “Croix de Guerre.” To many soldiers of this time, this pigeon was a war hero. The concept of a pigeon being a hero today is a crazy notion. To most the pigeon is considered to be a major nuisance and essentially a pest. It is completely understandable as to why most people would think so. They are usually disease ridden, uninvited guests who storm buildings and make it their own. In addition to the threat of spreading numerous diseases, these birds also come with the problem of cleanliness issues, damaged to the infrastructure of the building, respiratory problems to the tenants who are exposed to them and also poses a threat to basics essentials in a building.

​         In South Oropouche Roman Catholic Primary School’s case in September 2012, an infestation of pigeons fulfilled all the requirements to be considered a nuisance. Not only did the infestation pose a threat to the 180 plus students and staff but it also prevented the resumption of school, hindering the progress of the school term. President of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Pauline Philbert stated that the pigeon population was thriving on the school grounds for two to three years. That’s two to three years of accumulated pigeon droppings. The biggest concern of the PTA was the diseases that the pigeons were potentially carrying and exposing the students over a prolonged period of time to the pigeon infested environment. According to Philbert, “I call them the ‘flying rats’ because they carry diseases.” This has been a recurring problem in Trinidad and Tobago in schools across the country. Whether or not it has reached the point of being able to term it an infestation, the potential threats it poses resulted in 16 schools, both primary and secondary to be kept close in September 2013.

​The shutting down of the schools may seem a bit drastic for a couple of uninvited guests but the Education Facilities Company Limited (EFCL) along with the Ministry of Education understands the severity and possibility of the spread of diseases by these birds which are transmissible to humans. These diseases called ‘zoonoses’ can prove to be a serious problem as few effective predators’ means their numbers can multiply rapidly. The transmission of these diseases is primarily through the bird droppings. This occurs when:
1. the infected bird’s droppings would have the infection vector in it, once it dries and becomes a dust, once inhaled the disease known as Cryptococcosis Meningitis will be transmitted.
2. The heavy pedestrian traffic which exists in a school would result in this dried bird droppings to be kicked up and become airborne very easily. Symptoms include cough, fatigue, blurred vision, headache and confusion.

This is not the only disease that can pose a threat to the students and staff of the school, Salmonella and Listeria bacteria is also present within pigeons.  This has one of the highest mortality rates and can remain infective in the environment for over a year and is harmful when;

– there is the inhalation of dust which contains the pathogen and contaminated water sources

                – exposure to but not limited to young children and teenagers to this can result in catastrophe especially since                                                                  prolonged exposure to the dust can result in respiratory ailments

The first thought that comes to mind when Escherichia Coli (E-Coli) is mentioned is undercooked meat, however the E-Coli strain lives within the pigeons’ intestines and is usually harmless.  It grows excessively due to a number of factors such as a dirty nesting area, lack of vitamins and humidity. When this spreads to humans, it enters the bloodstream and causes systemic disorder which can lead to death within a few hours or days. Therefore it can be seen why the management and control of these birds should be consistent and mandatory due to the extreme consequences associated with their presence.

Furthermore, schools should take preventative measures in order to avoid this problem in the future. They should ensure that there is proper installation and that the ceilings are sealed properly so that bird droppings will not mix with the water sources. The EFCL should have regular checks to guarantee that students and teachers are not at risk. There should be proper removal of dust to avoid air contamination due to dry pigeon droppings. Hence, the school will then be a cleaner environment. Therefore, these preventative methods need to be implemented as productivity would be hampered as workers have the right to refusal of work according to Section 16 in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (2004) as amended (2006). Also, it can be noted that pigeon droppings is a contributor to corrosion of the beams in the building and this is deemed to be a major safety risk to staff and students as it results in infrastructural damage. This can be prevented by routine checks to the building either by a Chief Inspector according to section 70 (1) or an external professional.

In a nutshell, this issue of pigeon droppings still affects schools, since most of the staff and students are not aware of the major health risk and even safety risk. Therefore, both the EFCL and the Ministry of Education are currently involved in implementing preventative measures in insuring that the pigeon droppings situation does not affect more schools in Trinidad an Tobago.

photo 2

Installation of pigeon spikes on the external walls of the compound to prevent recurring pigeon nesting. (photo 1)

photo 1

-Parents evacuating their children from the school compound. (photo 2)

photo 3

Pigeon nesting on the school compound with an accumulation of droppings. (photo 3)

Work Cited

Newsday Staff, “Rats, Bats and Pigeons in Class.” Newsday
Tuesday, September 3rd. 2012

Sue-Ann Wayow South Bureau, ” ‘Flying rats’ close South Oropouche RC” Trinidad Express Newspapers
September 3rd. 2012

Howell,Tony. “Pigeon and rat infestation shuts down south school.”
Friday, April 20th. 2012

Fatt Ng, Brian. “Petty Pigeons.”
Tuesday, August 15th. 2006

Fatt Ng, Brian. “Petty Pigeons.”
Tuesday, August 15th. 2006Copy a Post

Occupational Safety and Health (prescribed Forms) Order.

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Occupational Safety & health vs the public

 So what happens when your workplace is unsafe and your employer is the Government (and salary negotiations are ongoing)?

The following chaos ensues:


Photo news coverage of Immigration offices shutdown July 2014

Over the last five months, Trinidad & Tobago has seen unprecedented actions by personnel in public offices around the country where scores of workers have protested and ceased work citing poor health and safety conditions in the workplace. While a great deal of media focus has been on the closure and “slow-down” of immigration services; to date, the following public/government offices have been closed:

Following a large public outcry and legal proceedings taken by the Ministry of Labour – filing an injunction to cease industrial action and contempt charges against Head of the Public Services Association (PSA), Mr. Watson Duke- workers returned to offices but under changeable working conditions including half day schedules and varying degrees of offices (and services) being closed indefinitely. At the San Fernando Magistrate Court, workers have been protesting health and safety conditions at the courthouse since August 5th 2014, signing the attendance register and leaving for the day.

Even while this is ongoing, Mr. Duke has indicated that several other offices will also shut down soon – these include Trinidad House, St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, and Customs and Excise, Nicholas Plaza, Port-of-Spain.


The Public Services Association and public workers have relied on Section 15 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“the OSH Act”), Chapter 88:08 to justify their refusal of work.

Section 15 OSH Act

This in turn necessitated inspection of the offices in question by Inspectors of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), in accordance with Section 17 of the OSH Act.

Findings of at least two (2) OSHA reports in July and August 2014 on the Immigration Office, Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain and San Fernando Magistrate Court respectively were released to the media by the PSA. These findings include:

Immigration Office, Port-of-Spain-July 2014
  • Only 6 of 37 health and safety parameters satisfied
  • No emergency plan based on most recent risk assessment
  • No valid fire certificate from Fire Authority
  • Entire staircase too narrow
  • Hanging wires throughout building
  • Overcrowded floors with staff and storage boxes
  • Insufficient water storage
  • Inadequate ventilation
  • Non functional emergency lighting

San Fernando Magistrate Court-August 2014

  • Possibility of roof, ceiling and guttering collapse
  • No fire certification from Fire Services
  • Roof in state of disrepair-leaks in evidence
  • Inadequate ventilation in courtrooms
  • Fixtures and fittings in toilets in disrepair
  • Exposure to respiratory hazards due to unclean metal louvers and blinds
  • One toilet for male and female prisoners
  • Disagreeable odors related to malfunctioning sewage
  • Defective electrical repairs and inadequate lighting
  • Inadequate ventilation; haphazard storage; inadequate housekeeping

Faulty electrical wiring, mosquito infestations, fire safety risks and sick building syndrome were some of the other reasons cited for refusal to work at other government offices.

Yet according to media reports, in support of its application for contempt charges to be brought against Mr. Watson Duke for continued alleged “industrial action”, the Labour Minister filed an affi­davit from Gaekwad Ramoutar, the Chief Inspector of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), stating there was no imminent threat to life, limb or health (at the Immigration office, Port-of-Spain):

“The actual safety and health work­place risk at the time of the inspection was not assessed to be unacceptable, based on the findings documented in the inspection record form completed by Dr. Holder and Mr. Gillette. I (Ramoutar) determined, together with the senior inspector, Mr. Colin Gaskin, that the issuing of a prohibition notice on the Immigration Division head officer at #67 Frederick Street was not warranted and no such notice has been issued.”

REQUIREMENTS of THE OSH ACT- Duties of the Employer

As stipulated by the OSH Act, Duties of the Employer include:

“Section 6.

(1) It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of all his employees.

(2)     (e).so far as is reasonably practicable as regards any place of work under the employer’s control, the maintenance of it in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks;

(f)the provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health, and adequate as regards amenities and arrangements for their welfare at work; ….

Section 17.

Where, following the investigation or any steps taken to deal with the circumstances that caused the employee to refuse to work or do particular work it is, pursuant to section 16, found that the employee has reasonable grounds to believe anything mentioned in section 15, the employee may refuse to work or to do the particular work and the employer or the employee or a person on behalf of the employer or employee shall cause an inspector to be notified thereof.

Section 20.

(1) Pending the investigation and decision of the Chief Inspector, no employee shall be assigned to use or operate the equipment, machine, device or article or to work in the industrial establishment or in the part of the industrial establishment being investigated as long as there is continuing imminent and serious danger to the life or health of any employee or person and until after the employer or his representative has taken remedial action, if necessary, to deal with the circumstances that caused the employee to refuse to do particular work.

(2) The employee who refuses to work under section 15, shall be deemed to be at work and his employer shall pay him at the regular or premium rate, as may be proper for the time extending from the time when the worker started to refuse to work under section 15 to the time when the Inspector or the Chief Inspector has decided under section 18 that the equipment, machine, device, article or the industrial establishment or part thereof presents an imminent and serious danger to the life or health of the employee or any person.

A 2012 policy set by the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for the outfitting of government offices also stipulates that office layouts must meet legislative obligations and government policies for workplace health, safety and accessibility.

govt outfitting policy coverGovt outfitting policy extract


The Government’s response (through the Minister of Labour) to these events included the following:


  • Filing of an Injunction at Industrial Court to cease industrial action (of Immigration Division workers)
  • Filing for contempt of charges and prison time for Mr. Watson Duke (for abetting continued industrial action) and another member of the PSA for refusal to work
  • Line minister for Immigration, Gary Griffith, attended a meeting with Jearlean John of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), in order to treat with the items identified in the OSHA inspection findings
  • Works are ongoing at Board of Inland Revenue;
  • Remedial works completed at Treasury Building, Port-of-Spain


The Ministry of Communication also issued a release in July 2014 at the onset of these PSA-led protests that the charge of poor health and safety conditions was being used as a “red herring” to force the government’s hands on salary negotiations. The release further held while the Government was seeking an amicable resolution, protecting the public interest was also of prime importance and legal options would (at that point) be explored.

Analysing the issues

For HSE practitioners and future policy-makers, the ongoing situation between the public workers, PSA and the Government of Trinidad presents unique challenges that may shape future legislation and our perspective on workplace safety.

Do the needs of the many outweigh the few?

The government is in a precarious position in its bilateral role as an employer of labour as well as a provider and protector of public services and interest. The shutdown of the Immigration offices in both Port-of-Spain and San Fernando in early July 2014 raised a large public outcry with members of the public, politicians and even ministers accusing the PSA (Duke) of holding the country to ransom when these services are most urgently needed. The refusal to work by immigration personnel at the offices’ busiest periods definitely tipped the scales towards workers’ and garnered massive public attention to their issues.

The government, as a provider of essential public services, is forced to heed the public’s call and act swiftly to resolve the problem – solution – go to Industrial Court and impel the workers’ return to their duties.

Would the public’s reaction been more empathetic towards the workers had it been a different time of year, a different company –say private owned and not responsible for providing a public service? Should that make a difference?

Would there have been such a virulent reaction by the media and public, if a public service were not being compromised at a seemingly critical time?

As noted by the Minister of Labour in his response to the shutdown, these safety issues/hazards did not occur overnight- yet the blanket refusal of workers to accept these conditions (at an opportune time) is what drew public attention and inspired an OSH evaluation and response on a governmental level.

What choice do we leave workers to effect action and change when enforcement of the legislation is ineffective or rather when the legislator is guilty of breaching his own legislation?









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M6+1’s first group feature looks at the impact of slips, trips and falls on our lives within the workplace and how we can make a difference.

International Labour Office (ILO) reminds us that every year around 337 million people are victims of workplace accidents; more than 2.3 million people die because of occupational injuries or work-related diseases around the world.  The statistics for industrial accidents and fatalities in Trinidad and Tobago has its own significance – 919 industrial accidents and 5 fatalities in 2011 alone. (see table 1)

Table 1

Reported Work Related Accidents in Trinidad and Tobago

Fiscal Year                                                       No. of Reported                                         No. of which were fatalities
(October to September)                                 Workplace Accidents                  

2010-2011                                                                            919                                                                         5

2009-2010                                                                            904                                                                         6

2008-2009                                                                            1114                                                                       15

(Source: osha.gov.tt: OSHA Accidents, 2011. Web. 23 September 2014.)

Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that the workplace is safe for all employees.  Likewise, employees have a responsibility to observe safe practices and not compromise safety measures in place.  Incidents and accidents occur either due to employees’ non-adherence to safety and health rules and guidelines or, employers’ failure to institute strict measures to ensure sound safety and health practices in the workplace.  The effects of such occurrences can be quite debilitating on lives.

To get into the right frame of mind, watch the following video on trips and falls in the workplace: Can’t Get No Traction Continue reading

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Common Sense & Safety…Can it improve your life?

YOLO………or You Only Live Once as many would know it, just happens to be the mind set of most of today’s generation. Living young, wild and free is downright acceptable and expected. However, when it comes to common safety and health precautions most of today’s generation overlook certain aspects which could lengthen their “one” life. This blog reflects common safety and health hazards overlooked during a rivalry between a frat house, Delta PSI Beta and their neighbour, a young couple with a new born baby, in the 2014 movie Neighbours[1].  Although the movie is set in a city in USA for the purposes of this blog we will utilise T&T safety standards for comparison of situations unless otherwise stated.

As hilarious as the movie seemed to be, it contained numerous safety and health hazards, which could happen to anyone. One of the issues that stood out was the level of noise produced by the frat house. Noise can affect the health of individuals in many ways ranging from minor (lack of sleep) to severe (hearing impairment). Every owner, occupier or employer shall take adequate steps to prevent hearing impairment caused by noises, and diseases caused by vibration, from occurring to persons in, or in the vicinity (OSH Act, Trinidad and Tobago, 45)[2]. It also states that the Chief Inspector may issue an order to reduce the level of noise generated by a process. As seen in the movie, the frat house partied regularly with the use of loud music with little courtesy for their neighbours, especially the couple who lived next door with a newly born baby. Upon moving in the couple kindly requested the frat house to keep it down and they (frat members) agreed to do so. However, after the second night of nonstop music, it became intolerable as a booming party at 4:00 am created unbearable noise waking the couple and scaring the baby. After many vain attempts to contact the president of the fraternity, the couple decided to break their promise of never calling the police who would hopefully stop the noise. Upon arriving at the frat house the police informed the president of the complaint after which the music and partying quickly reduced. The police did not conduct any further investigation into the matter therefore the noise problem continued to exist bringing discomfort to the couple’s everyday lives.


Police questioning couple about noise complaint in the presence of the fraternity president.

Consequently, rivalry between the two neighbours began, in a vicious plot by the couple an electrical hazard was created which could have led to a fire hazard. An electrical hazard is a dangerous condition such that contact or equipment failure can result in electric shock, arc-flash burn, thermal burn, or blast (Electrical Safety Definitions PDF, 2)[3].  The young couple clearly did not use their common sense in trying to sabotage the frat house by placing a hose through a window to create a situation of flood. This, they hoped would have resulted in the fraternity moving out. Shockingly as it seems….this could of lead to critical injuries as well as deaths. Who in their right minds would want to electrocute a couple of party goers or indefinitely kill? Clearly the couple was distressed. An electrical hazard would have been created if the water level had risen to an electrical power outlet electrocuting all the frat members standing in the water. Had it come into contact with electricity from a love outlet a spark would have been created and when combined with electrical equipment at the frat house a fire would have started. Luckily the frat members noticed the situation before the risk of electrocution had increased further ensuring their safety and that of the house.

Seriously not funny.

Thank God for Laws…so much more hazards could have been created.

Mind you that the fraternity had burnt down their previous house due to their reckless use of fireworks. Unfortunately they were not punished by the University but only given probation on a three strike policy. Fireworks are essentially explosives and setting them off in a wooden house, such as that of the fraternity would almost certainly cause a fire. You would think so right? The likelihood of this hazard can be rated 5/5 as Very Likely (Barcelona Field Studies Centre, Risk Assessment Severity Key)[4]. Considering the overcrowding of the house due to heavy partying and intoxication of the occupants, would make a timely evacuation unlikely. Together with the scenario of a large fire the severity of this hazard, using the severity scale for physical injuries can be estimated at 4/5 – Severe injury or trauma requiring urgent hospital attention (Barcelona Field Studies Centre, Risk Assessment Severity Key)[5].

bad neighbour

Delta PSI beta’s President

Along with the additional discomfort brought about by the fraternity house came the responsibilities of being new parents which led to increased stress levels on the young couple. Since their arrival to the neighbourhood, the father in the movie began to think that his life was boring due to the fraternity’s constant partying. He resorted to smoking marijuana and that too, at his place of work with his co –worker/friend. The head employee eventually caught them smoking behind the workplace, as the Exit door was pushed open the father quickly shoved the lit joint in his mouth. A hazard of health was created leading to the consequences of the father’s tongue being burnt as well as other parts of his mouth, he also had excessive coughing due to the inhalation of smoke. It shall be the duty of every employee while at work to take reasonable care for the safety and health of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work (Occupational Health and Safety Act Trinidad and Tobago, 22)[6]. The father was therefore not taking care of his health as well as the health of the co-worker. The head employee did not take any evasive action to prevent his employees from smoking at the workplace or at home therefore their health will continue to deteriorate which could negatively affect the company.

It’s all well and fine to have fun and enjoy life but at what costs? Surely the movie was as hilarious as Kevin Hart but it does not portray an appropriate example for viewers in terms of safety and health. There were so many situations which could have and probably might have gone wrong fortunately there was a Director and Producer present on the scene many of them were just pranks, fooling around and not so well studied revenge plots. Common sense combined with safety can help and improve our everyday life by just thinking before we act.

[1] Neighbours (released as Bad Neighbours in some markets) is a 2014 American comedy film, directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien.

[2] Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act of 2004, Amended by 3 of 2006. Ministry of Legal Affairs. Trinidad and Tobago. http://www.legal affairs.gov.tt

[3] https://www.lanl.gov/safety/electrical/docs/definitions.pdf

[4] http://geographyfieldwork.com/RiskAssessmentSeverityScale.htm

[5] http://geographyfieldwork.com/RiskAssessmentSeverityScale.htm

[6] Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act of 2004, Amended by 3 of 2006. Ministry of Legal Affairs. Trinidad and Tobago. http://www.legal affairs.gov.tt

Cyber Managers Analyse OSH Issues In The Movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)”

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The Grape Family

Meet the Grape Family, immediately from right to left you may notice some familiar faces. In the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Arnie, the younger differently-abled brother, to the right of him their younger sister Ellen, in the middle Johnny Depp who plays the eldest brother and breadwinner for the family, their mother Bonnie who’s morbidly obese and avoids leaving the house, and finally Amy the eldest sister. The movie in a nutshell depicts Gilbert’s desire to leave their hometown of Endora, however after their Father’s suicide several years prior, Bonnie gains an incredible amount of weight causing her to hide away in the family home. Gilbert is left to be the breadwinner, working alongside Arnie in the local grocery store. He and Amy run the household, looking after the family and in particular Arnie and Bonnie.

The Grape family truly live under a set of unique conditions, their two-story wooden home is old and in need of renovations. Arnie, who turns eighteen in the movie, is more like a young child, he is unable to take proper care of himself, and lacks the ability to fully understand when given instructions or asked questions. Their youngest sister Ellen plays a small role in the film, she is more concerned about her image and so becomes angry with Arnie for embarrassing her.

Throughout the movie there are obvious hazards and safety concerns:

  • Let’s start with the home’s foundation and floorboards. Because of her unwillingness and lack of mobility Bonnie spends most of her days sitting in front the TV, so much so that the children actually bring the table to her at dinner time. There’s a funny but not so funny scene in the movie where Gilbert and his friend, Tucker, are in the basement inspecting the home’s foundation. All of a sudden they get quiet and duck down as Bonnie slowly makes her way from the kitchen to reclaim her spot on the TV-room couch. The floorboards creak, press down and give off a cloud of dust under her weight.


    Bonnie almost never moves from the couch.

To mitigate the risk of the family falling through the floorboards they use six 3 by 6 inch beams to prop the flooring. This however was not a permanent fix, they should have retained the services of a proper carpenter. While it is obvious that they weren’t financially secure they could have-in the meantime- isolated that particular area of the home preventing anyone from walking, sitting, standing etc. anywhere in that area.

  • Arnie is the next area of concern, because of his condition Arnie often agreed with others though not quite understanding what was being asked of him. In the movie there’s a scene where Gilbert is bathing Arnie in the bathtub, however Gilbert wants to leave to meet his ‘love interest’ (obviously) so he suggests to Arnie that he (Arnie) could bathe, dry and clothe himself. Arnie-not fully understanding- agrees; Gilbert finds him the next morning sitting naked in the bathtub shivering.

Arnie Unsupervised:- Climbing the town’s water tank.

This lack of judgement and recklessness on Gilbert’s part put Arnie’s health and well-being at risk- some potential hazards Arnie could have fell victim to included hypothermia and drowning, “I could have drownded,” yelled Arnie. Hypothermia, according to ‘Mayo Clinic Online’ is defined as a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature.

Arnie’s love for climbing is also depicted in the film. He is seen climbing trees, the house, and the town’s water tower (three times!). They even play a game called “Where’s Arnie,” where he basically climbs a tree and they pretend they can’t find him, until he jumps off a branch to knock Gilbert down. Clearly he wasn’t being looked after well enough and though Gilbert tried to keep an eye on him the safest thing for Arnie would have been round-the-clock supervision. Persons who are differently-abled have very different needs than the average person, and so it is our responsibility to ensure that they do not pose a risk to themselves and others. To reduce the likelihood that Arnie would keep climbing the town’s water tower the entire Grape family should have discouraged him from climbing at home by refusing to play “Where’s Arnie,” hopefully then climbing would not have seemed like such a thrill.

"Where's Arnie?!"

“Where’s Arnie?!”

  • The third and fourth hazards may seem trivial however it led to an accident (death) in the movie. On arriving home after a distressing phone call, Ken Carver, husband to Betty Carver (who was having an affair with Gilbert), is seen crying on their front steps while the house is engulfed in smoke. Betty burnt a batch of cookies and left her children inside, Ken comes home and lets the children out, had he reached a little later they may have asphyxiated due to the smoke. In a situation like that Betty should have had an exit strategy already in her mind, she should have got her kids safely out of the house and then called for help. And so we see the importance of having an emergency plan even at home.

In the following scene Ken begins yelling and kicking things in the yard. Though it is not shown, he suffers from a heart attack, falls face first into a kiddie pool of no more than a couple inches of water and drowns. To reduce the risk of such an occurrence, blow up pools like the one Ken drowned in should always be emptied and deflated after use, other types of pools or hot tubs should be enclosed by a barrier or gate especially when a family has young children. We continuously see accidents related to drowning in Trinidad itself, especially where safety measures are not fully adhered to or implemented. For instance, on June 5th 2014, a five year old named Jeremiah Agard was able to open the gate which closed off a pool area, and hence, he fell into the pool and drowned. Don’t you think that this death could have been avoided if that gate had been more secure?

(See link for more details:- http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2014-06-05/days-after-child-drowns-nursery-school-close)

  • Onto the last hazard, at the end of the movie Bonnie or to the Grape family “Mama,” dies shortly after making her way upstairs for the first time in a number of years (not sure if these two are correlated). Bonnie was extremely obese and her health was deteriorating unknowingly due to her terrible eating habits and depression. Obesity by definition, according to ‘Medical Dictionary Online’ is an abnormal accumulation of body fat. As a result, due to her weight the family realized that they would ‘require a crane’ to move her body out of the house. Fearing that Bonnie would become a joke they removed all valuables from the house and set their home on fire.

    Home of the Grape family set on fire.

While their reason was a noble one they created quite the little situation for something to go terribly wrong. They exposed themselves and their neighbours to the following hazards: large masses of smoke, a potential wildfire, and an explosion caused by the burning of chemicals or gas within the home. To mitigate the risks associated with these hazards the family should have asked for help from the authorities (police, fire department, medics etc.) to deal with the situation in a quiet and respectable manner instead of setting fire to their home!

As seen in this report, there were many situations determined that could be avoided. This blog makes us all think twice about how many situations we can correct around us; in our homes, schools, workplaces etc. There is always room for improvement regarding our health and safety! Remember! “Safety First” is “Safety Always”- (Charles M. Haynes).

Please check out the movie and see if you can spot hazards that we may have missed!
Sincerely: Cyber Managers

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Walking in a Safety Officer’s Shoes

Can you imagine what’s going through the mind of the Safety Officer in the featured image at the left? We don’t know what’s happening in front of him, but we can tell it’s hellish. There appear to be people packed all around him, looking on or else waiting with bated breath. The man is grimy; he’s obviously been working hard under some stressful conditions. And now, while he waits, he can only cross his fingers, knowing he’s not in control. Is somebody’s life on the line? Are there more than one victim in this accident or catastrophe?

Imagine you were in his shoes. How would you feel? What would you be thinking? Just thinking about it makes my chest tighten up so it becomes hard to take a comfortable breath. How would you cope under the kind of stress he is facing? What would your response be: How would your body respond? Your mind? Your emotions? What steps would come next? Hospital trips? Insurance reviews? Investigative reports? Commissions of inquiry? Lawsuits? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Welcome to MGMT 3311, our course on Occupational Safety and Health Management. This is our class blog, to be used by us all as we explore the elements of OSH Management, spanning support systems, hazard identification and control, risk assessment and mitigation, to health and welfare considerations, to the mandates of our OSH Act. Let’s find out what can be done to significantly reduce the chances of us one day having to stand by powerlessly, with our fingers crossed.