Govt envisions tougher penalties for breach of safety protocols
…as 4 workplace deaths recorded in 7 days
With four workplace fatalities being registered in the space of seven days, Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton has determined that there is a need for a culture change when it comes to health and safety, coupled with the need for more stringent penalties for defaulters.
On February 4, 66-year-old Lennox McPherson died after he was pinned by an excavator bucket against the track of another excavator just outside the Guiana Shield Resources sandpit at Dora on the East Bank of Demerara.
Then on February 6, 64-year-old Trevor Jones died after he was crushed by super reach stacker at the John Fernandes Wharf at Water Street, Georgetown. It was reported that the man was struck by the counterweight at the rear of the vehicle, at which point he fell and was fatally injured by the rear right wheel of the machine.
On February 9, 27-year-old Domindra Narayan succumbed to injuries he had received one month prior after falling from a 10ft scaffold, whilst pressure washing Imam Bacchus Sons Limited’s complex at Affiance, Essequibo Coast, Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam).
Then on February 10, a Venezuelan health and safety worker, 37-year-old Rusbel Azocar was killed at the Vreed-en-Hoop Shore Base, the artificial island that is being constructed in the Demerara River. Police had stated that the worker was placing safety cones and danger tape around a hole as a signal to warn others of the hazard, but, unfortunately, he himself fell into the hole. It was reported that at the time, he was not wearing a lifejacket, as was necessitated by protocols.
In the latest incident, Minister Hamilton highlighted the irony of the fact that the health and safety worker failed to adhere to health and safety protocols at the worksite.
“What is astonishing, he has OSH training and understanding so, if he is in that position, then you can imagine the people he is supposed to be supervising,” the labour minister remarked.
He also commented too on the fact that the workplace fatality occurred at a site that is supposed to have been operating at the highest level of safety standards.
“It is alarming. Most companies now are developing their HSE based on what oil and gas is requiring…so yes, you would expect better for a company that is in oil and gas,” he said.
The Minister nevertheless admitted that even with all the right guidelines in place, the attitude and culture of the workplace regarding health and safety would need to be up to standards.
“For me, it’s a cultural issue…,” he said.
VESHI has since revealed that the victim was employed by a subcontractor. VEHSI is a joint venture between NRG Holdings Inc.—a 100 percent Guyanese-owned consortium that is the majority shareholder –and Jan De Nul, a Belgium international maritime infrastructure company. ExxonMobil Guyana and VESHI had signed a 20-year agreement for shore base services to support the US oil giant’s operations offshore Guyana.
Modern laws, training
Nevertheless, the labour minister said the government is working on introducing modern laws governing health and safety in the workplace.
“Our legislation is not relevant to the times…our OSH legislation never envisioned oil and gas, so that also is a work in process…we are engaged with the Attorney General Chambers to revamp and review these legislation…,” Hamilton explained.
“I have recommended steep fines,” he added.
Additionally, Minister Hamilton said more training is needed for health and safety officials in Guyana.
“Some people don’t even know this exists as a profession,” Hamilton said, adding that “we need more people to be trained in the area.”
“The same way how we offer scholarships for other things, we need to start offering scholarships for people to be trained as OSH officers.”
Nevertheless, the Labour Minister said the government has been making substantial investments in raising awareness on this matter and within the last three years, there have been results.
“I can speak to hundreds of training sessions we’ve had with both public sector and private sector…I can speak to how many workplace and safety committees we’ve established that never existed and some that existed long years ago that we’ve resuscitated…”
“We’ve expanded the Ministry of Labour beyond the coastal plain, in every region, so work is being done.”
Hamilton said in 2020, there were 32 workplace fatalities and in 2023, the number of workplace deaths reduced to 20.
Of the 20 deaths recorded, nine occurred in the mining sector in Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) while six were recorded in the construction sector. For last year too, the Ministry had recorded 175 non-fatal accidents.
Meanwhile, there were 27 workplace fatalities in 2021 and 21 in 2022. (G11)