The workplace should be a safe environment where employees can do their jobs without the fear of injury or death. Workplace health and safety procedures are necessary for the well-being of both employers and employees.
These sentiments were expressed by the Labour Department’s Health and Safety Officer, Sandy Miller, during a recent interview with the Barbados Government Information Service.
Mr. Miller explained that the law regarding safety and health in the workplace with respect to employees is covered under the General Duties for Employees. “Essentially it indicates that all employees have a responsibility to follow all safety and health rules of that workplace. They also have a responsibility for their own safety and health as well as the safety and health of those around them,” said the labour official.
He pointed out that before any work is conducted, the onus was on the employer to conduct a risk assessment. “If a contractor is going to paint the side of a building, that individual has to carry out a risk assessment and with that assessment, you have to consider things like: how will my employees have access to the side of the building? Is there anything in the environment that will cause them harm while working? As it relates to powerlines or electrical infrastructure, you have to look for overhead powerlines, powerlines that may be running close to the building especially close to where workmen have to set up scaffolding.”
Mr. Miller intimated that persons who contravene the Act may be fined $500.00 on summary conviction. He also warned that if persons continued to carry out any unsafe act the penalty was $100 for every day this continued. If the actions lead to an injury or death, persons can be fined up to $ 5, 000.00 and or one year in prison.
If employees believe that management is not taking their safety and health seriously, the Safety Officer is advising workers to bring the matter to their employer’s attention. If the employer is reluctant to make the necessary adjustments, they may contact the Labour Department and speak to an officer from the Safety and Health section.
“We have the responsibility to conduct work place assessments and inspections in workplaces all across Barbados, both factory and non-factory, with the exception of persons employed in domestic households, police or the military.”
For those persons working in close proximity to power lines, he offered this advice. “I would advise all persons who are self-employed, who work anywhere near powerlines that they must exercise the same caution as an owner/occupier would in conducting risk assessment. Power is dangerous to anybody including persons who are self-employed. [I am aware] that they are trying to make a living…however, the danger of electricity is still there,” Mr. Miller warned.
He continued: “Before going into trees or going into a compound to pick fruit, think about the risk assessment. What is it in the area that may cause harm? What can you do to ensure that you are not harmed? If you see powerlines running through a fruit tree, that is a tree that you are not supposed to go into. The risk and the potential for harm are there.”
The Safety Officer also cautioned those persons picking fruit about the dangers posed by the implements they use in carrying out this task. He explained that there was some electrical conductivity that could occur when using metal poles, PVC pipes or pieces of board.
Mr. Miller added: “There is some electrical conductivity in all of these items; it is just a matter of if the potential for the line is greater than the resistance of the implement that you are using, it will pass through the pole and you will be shocked. So, I will advise all persons to look before you climb, look before you pick and be cognisant of what is in the area and not just the electrical infrastructure. Think about how you will ascend the tree and descend the tree. [You must also] think of the other hazards in the areas as well.”
The Labour Department, in conjunction with the Barbados Light and Power Company Limited and the Barbados Government Information Service, has embarked on a public relations campaign to educate the public on how to protect themselves when working around powerlines. The campaign was officially rolled out to stakeholders during a seminar hosted by the Department entitled: Promoting Safety around Electricity.
Mr. Miller expressed the hope that the participants attending the seminar would “share that information with their work colleagues so that we can move forward because there is still a lot of work to be done”.