OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

BIR – “Building Incapable of Repairs?”

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BIR – “Building Incapable of Repairs?”

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Deplorable working conditions and filth at the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) Office causes twelve deaths in just five years! Is this a cause for concern? Definitely! The BIR Office at Trinidad House, Port of Spain, came under heavy scrutiny by the media and the Public Service Authority (PSA) after stumbling upon the distasteful facts of employees dying and others suffering severe illnesses due to unacceptable working conditions of which the Ministry failed to implement remedial actions to mitigate the issues in accordance to the OSH ACT 2004. Duke, in his address to the protesting workers there and at other locations throughout Trinidad, heralded the Director of Personnel Administration to ensure the health and safety of its employees and hence threatened to take legal action if the issues were not addressed in a timely manner.

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The employees complained about a myriad of health and safety concerns including unsanitary conditions, leaking sewer systems, fungus on the air condition vents, dusty, uncleansed carpets, rat droppings, maggots and a lack of safety signs identifying danger zones. They referred to the building as having “sick building syndrome.” As a result, they experienced acute symptoms of weakened immune system, skin rashes and infections, eye infections such as boils on their eyelids, to chronic cases of cancer and subsequent death.

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Biological Hazards were most prominent however physical, ergonomic and physiological/psychological hazards added to the dismay of the employees. After much upheaval, few corrective measures were implemented to eliminate and reduce the risk to employees and ensure a safe working environment. Evidence of the corrective strategies were gathered from  both primary and secondary sources which included newspaper clippings and face to face interviews conducted with individuals working at the building in question.

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The former Minister of Finance and Economy, Larry Howai, commissioned the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) to conduct an air quality assessment on the sixth floor of the Trinidad House, after receiving several complaints of respiratory irritations, nausea and frequent mal odors from staff members who occupy the work area.  A duplicate of the CARIRI report was given to the union upon the investigation which stated that there was no significant amplification of mold in the assessed indoor area, therefore suggesting that there were no fungal contamination in the building, during the period of sampling.

Furthermore, as part of the cost reduction and ongoing rationalization of the BIR’s operations the employees at the Inland Revenue Department will be relocated to the Inland Revenue Tower by March 2015 eliminating the present hazards altogether.

In an effort to alleviate the health concerns of the employees the Ministry embarked on several “housekeeping” initiatives throughout the building such as: repainting of the workspaces, washing and cleaning of windows and the building’s exterior, changing of the ceiling tiles which were broken and they serviced the air conditioning units.

In addition, the Ministry also made provisions for employees to undertake a voluntary medical examination at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope; an entry requirement prior to an employee’s tenure highly recommended by OSH.  Subsequently, employee health records should be kept for a minimum of five (5) years thereafter to be able to monitor their health history during their stay at the Ministry, this will aid to determine if the employee’s health deteriorated or death was indeed caused as a result of the present working conditions.

Other measures were also implemented throughout the building to ensure the safety of employees. These such measures included; the installation of safety and warning signs, installation and servicing of fire extinguishers and fire hoses, and lastly, the replacement of smoke detectors. All in an attempt to improve employees’ safety on the job and reduce the likelihood of potential risks and accidents.

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Finally, in keeping with OSH practices, memos were posted throughout the building to increase employee’s knowledge and awareness of their rights regarding the OSH ACT and the Public Service Regulations. Employees were also advised to practice personal hygiene such as: washing hands regularly, covering coughs and sneezes, using antibacterial soaps, to name a few. These measures would have inhibited the transfer of bacteria and germs, of which are biological hazards which can be transmitted either directly or indirectly.

As a result, the implementation of improvements and preventative strategies of the OSH issues at BIR indeed alleviated the hazard of stress affecting the employees. The measures implemented were effective in encompassing the health and safety issues. However, a more proactive approach to identifying hazards and deciding who might be harmed and how, evaluating the risks and the precautions and recording the findings as a risk assessment and reviewing same as necessary and as guided by the Act should be enforced.

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We should agree therefore that providing a safe working environment is not very difficult particularly in this low risk environment. It involves participation from everyone, molding a culture of health and safety driven by the commitment of management to minimize the risk to the health and safety of employees and increase morale for a better, motivated workforce that will in turn reap high productivity. Thus, it has been proven and is hence appropriate to say that the BIR office is NOT incapable of repairs after all!

Work Cited:

“Duke Shuts down BIR after Death of Employees.” Duke Shuts down BIR after Death of Employees. The Daily Express, 19 Mar. 2014. Web.

Kowlessar, Geisha. “After Protest BIR Workers Relocated.” After Protest BIR Workers Relocated – The Trinidad Guardian. Geisha Kowlessar, 26 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

“Duke Tells Trinidad House Workers to Stay Away.” Duke Tells Trinidad House Workers to Stay Away – Trinidad and Tobago Guardian. 20 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Khan, Rizal. “BIR Employee Interview Responses.” Personal interview. 16 Oct. 2015.

Kevin Matthews. 60 in Protest over Bullet Holes.. Digital image. Duke Tells Trinidad House Workers to Stay Away The Trinidad Guardian. N.p., 10 Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Employees of Century 21 Janitorial Services Remove Unwanted Items from Trinidad House on St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain as Board of Inland Revenue Workers Continued to Stay Away in Protest of the Hazardous Work Environment Yesterday. Digital image. After Protest BIR Workers Relocated. MICHEAL BRUCE, 26 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Maggie by *fizzgig on deviantart. Digital image.Http://vi.sualize.us/maggie_by_fizzgig_deviantart_maggot_insect_cartoon_steak_picture_3yX5.html. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

George, Stacey. Stressed out Employee Cartoon. Digital image.https://www.pinterest.com/pin/429530883184903349/. Stacey George, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

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One thought on “BIR – “Building Incapable of Repairs?”

  1. This article highlighted how unsafe conditions could lead to challenges in the workplace. However, I wonder how much of what was claimed was proven with evidence and how much was a claim still be be investigated following newspaper reports of the upheaval in the BIR. As the group who chose to blog about this issue, your task should have been to bring a clear focus to the issue by telling us who the main players in the scenario were, what the claims were, what investigations were needed and which ones were done, what the investigative findings were, what the various government, news and Union releases said and how they compared to one another. Early in the article, mention was made that deaths may have resulted from the hazards that were thought to be present. Did the employees really die because of workplace conditions? The article cannot end without you tying up the loose ends from your first paragraph. Also, what should the reader take away from your article? How does your contribution hope to guide us in our own work and home settings?

    Liked by 1 person

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