Vice Chairperson Policy,
Advocacy and Projects
Commonwealth Youth Council
Some of the health and safety issues identified in the widely-publicised Occupational Safety and Health report for the Immigration Division building at 67 Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, were exaggerated and false, according to Alfred Galy, property manager of the building. He was seen yesterday in and around the building making checks with workers. In an interview afterwards, Galy said: “There were a lot of minor details that were amplified. Osha has exaggerated this condition and I consider it very reckless and unprofessional. “The building is a functional building. The elevator is working. There is no shortage of water. There are no electrical problems. The air was tested and it’s proper air, better air than the air outside.”
Commenting on the issue of “hanging wires” throughout the building, Galy said: “These were IT wires that could have been secured better but they gave the impression that they were electrical wires.” On the issue of inadequate ventilation, he said: “We have a report from Cariri that shows the air meets specifications so that is not correct. That’s an allegation.” On the issue of the staircase being too narrow, he said: “The staircase met specifications at the time when the building was built, which was 39 inches, and I think it’s the same 39 inches now, and at the time it was approved by town and country and city council.” On the issue of there being no emergency lighting, he said: “That is absolutely incorrect and misleading. New emergency lighting was installed two weeks ago and was tested by the fire authorities up to two days ago. “I was never even invited when Osha conducted the inspection.”
However, Galy said there were some legitimate issues which were receiving his attention. He said remedial work had started on the building and was expected to be 90 per cent complete within a week. “Right now we are putting in place all the safety and health concerns that the staff had. Every one of them that is true. If there are false ones we have nothing to do,” he added.
He said the relevant certificates would be ready in a few days. Asked to respond to an allegation by Public Service Association (PSA) president Watson Duke that a T&TEC foreman was injured on the compound, he said: “There is an installation to the back that belongs to T&TEC. It’s on our property but the installation services a whole block of buildings and it has not been properly serviced and that’s why it got out of hand. That’s T&TEC’s problem, otherwise they would have sued us.”
Galy said he was in the process of getting electrical certification. “For electricals, you are supposed to do your building every five years. You call the inspectorate to do a test but we’re doing that right now,” he said. Asked why he did not maintain the five-year certification, he added; “The building was running. We had no electrical problems. How many people do that? Whoever owns houses don’t do that every five years.” Contacted by the T&T Guardian yesterday, the two Osha inspectors identified on the report said they were not allowed to comment. Chief Inspector Gaekwad Ramoutar requested that all questions be sent via e-mail. However, he had not responded up to yesterday evening.
Asked at a press conference yesterday if he was concerned about the authenticity of the Osha report, PSA president Duke said: “I am not concerned because that report was done in broad daylight with members of staff. We have a bigger fight than what appears on paper. “We have a serious concern that the Minister of Labour, being the minister responsible for the Industrial Court and the OSH agencies, and yet the minister who is making declarations on his own account, quite contrary to these independent bodies, that the complaints spoken about are frivolous whereas the inspector would have said those complaints are grave and could threaten life, health, and a person’s safety. “He’s going against an independent body which falls under his charge.”
Duke added: “You have a minister ridiculing the integrity of public officers. How could he say a ‘so called’ OSH report when it came from someone under his charge.” He said several immigration officers had made medical complaints, contrary to what Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod had said. “As a matter of fact, that is why the Moonan Building (the immigration building opposite St Mary’s College) had been shut down since April 8. Just today an immigration officer complained of now having to seek specialist treatment,” he added. Duke called on Government to establish an oversight committee, comprising five PSA members and five members of the state, to look into the working conditions of immigration staff and oversee the move from the current buildings to the Government Campus Plaza. Asked how the PSA will respond if the Government moved to introduce contempt proceedings, Duke said: “We will respond in the way we feel best.”