The Occupational Safety and Health Agency (Osha)-the state entity responsible for safeguarding the lives of workers-is a fire and electrical death trap. Inspections conducted by the T&T Electricity Commission (T&TEC) and the Fire Service revealed that the agency's head office located at Duncan Street Complex, Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, is not in compliance with the standard safety regulations.
In fact, the electrical report dated January 7, threatened to disconnect the supply of electricity if the agency failed to comply with specific regulations of the National Electrical Code, and all other relevant codes and rules adopted and implemented by the chief electrical inspector.
Approximately 65 employees are now employed at the agency's main office. Over the last few months, employees have walked off the job complaining of unsuitable working conditions. Recently the employees were also forced to abandon their jobs after heavy showers flooded the ground floor of the building.
The agency, which falls under the purview of Labour Minister Errol McLeod, has also been mired in controversy regarding flawed hiring practices. It was only last week that management issued an e-mail instructing staff to resume normal working hours, after maintenance work was carried out on the air conditioning.
Safety hazard at Osha
However, employees told Sunday Guardian that the indoor air quality tests remain outstanding, among other safety hazards listed in the reports. Some of the defects outlined in the electrical report, obtained by Sunday Guardian, that have to be corrected are:
• Provide a single-line diagram for the entire installation, incorporating the technical data on the following items:
(a) The service disconnect.
(b) The service entrance cables/conductors.
(c) All other feeder cables throughout the installation.
• Ensure that all distribution boards and electrical panels are readily accessible at all times.
• Provide an equipment grounding conductor to each point of installation and ensure that the impedance from all points to the grounding electrode does not exceed a resistance of one ohm (SI unit of electrical resistance).
• Terminate all loose conductors in an approved manner.
• Ensure all electrical panels that are not located in close proximity to their source are equipped with a main disconnect means.
• Remove all fluorescent lamps presently attached to the air conditioning ducting.
• Install correct and detailed circuit directories on all distribution boards and load centre panels.
• Make visible for inspection the installation's grounding system and ensure that its resistance is in keeping with Article 250 of the National Electric Code.
With regards to the report issued by the fire service, the following deficiencies were observed:
• No evacuation plan;
• No sprinkler system;
• Incorrect detector;
• Some extinguishers need servicing;
• Hose reel not functional;
• Hose reel in basement missing;
• Emergency exit door locks not functional;
• Emergency staircase corroded;
• No emergency lighting in corridor and basement;
• Insufficient exit and directional signs;
• Electrical wiring needs to be checked;
• Electrical panel box in basement to be covered;
• Poor housekeeping in the server room on the fifth floor;
• Poor housekeeping in the electrical rooms;
• Air conditioning needs to be upgraded.
According to the report, among the recommendations necessary to meet the safety requirements of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) are:
• Portable fire extinguishers should be installed, inspected and maintained in accordance with NFPA;
• A dedicated water supply of at least 30,000 gallons should be reserved for firefighting purposes;
• A fire pump should be installed;
• A sprinkler system should be provided throughout the building;
• A sprinkler control valve and water flow device should be provided on each floor.
Sunday Guardian learnt that under the former administration, an alternative site was located at El Socorro. The building, which was under construction, was due for completion in November 2011. However, well-placed sources told Sunday Guardian that the present board, led by Dr Carol Bhagan-Khan, found the location to be unsuitable.
"The relevant approvals to occupy the building were being sought, but the new board felt that El Socorro was not a suitable location for the offices and cancelled that option, leaving Osha to begin its search all over again," said an employee who spoke under conditions of anonymity. Several attempts to contact the line minister and chairman Bhagan-Khan for a comment on the present situation proved futile.