OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

Pigeons Strike

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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
http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,183103.html

Sue-Ann Wayow South Bureau, ” ‘Flying rats’ close South Oropouche RC” Trinidad Express Newspapers
September 3rd. 2012
http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/_Flying_rats__close_South_Oropouche_RC-168416806.html?m=y&smobile=y

Howell,Tony. “Pigeon and rat infestation shuts down south school.”
Friday, April 20th. 2012
http://m.guardian.co.tt/news/2012-04-20/pigeon-and-rat-infestation-shuts-down-south-school

Fatt Ng, Brian. “Petty Pigeons.”
Tuesday, August 15th. 2006
http://legacy.guardian.co.tt/archives/2006-08-15/features2.html

Fatt Ng, Brian. “Petty Pigeons.”
Tuesday, August 15th. 2006Copy a Post
http://legacy.guardian.co.tt/archives/2006-08-15/features2.html

Occupational Safety and Health (prescribed Forms) Order.

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3 thoughts on “Pigeons Strike

  1. Great work Business Pioneers. I wish I’d known this before as I have had some negative encounters with these flying rats ( being pooped on, staining my paint job and suffering from what seemed to be a avian illness). I honestly think most people don’t realize the dangers of these birds. My primary school was and still is occupied by these birds and no one has ever shut it down.Maybe they are waiting for someone to get sick or worst case scenario die. I hope this post can be used to educate more people of the health risk brought about by these birds.

    One thing you omitted to mention was the OSH Act 2004 as amended 2006 take on cleanliness. The act addresses the issue of vermin in Section 31 (c)

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  2. Excellent blog on many fronts. The informative/educational content is not lost with verbosity. The ease with which the article was read is owed to the flow with which it was written and must be commended. The layout from the history of Cher Ami, to the referencing of the local case – the entities affected, the hazards and effects, the recommendations and implementations of solutions, all contributed to a captivating article. Referencing the OSH act, solidified the validity of the need for this matter to be addressed.

    The wealth of knowledge shared about a topic most would find mundane, is appreciated by this reader. Always having had a basic idea of the health risks posed by these “flying rats”, after reading your work, I’m now armed with facts about the immensity of their dangers and I will be sharing – as well as the link to your blog.

    Great job Business Pioneers!

    816003984

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  3. Very creative opening. At my place of work we are currently experiencing a serious pigeon problem. An while we (the employees) achknowledge there presence as negative I dont think we fully realize the danger these birds are posing. Thank you for this contribution I will definitely highlight some of these factors to the health and safety department.

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