“One death in the workplace is one too many and we therefore should be concerned and very alarmed that there have been 102 workplace fatalities in nine years,” said Thomas-Felix as she addressed a special sitting of the court in Port-of-Spain to mark the opening of the law term. She called on both the public and private sectors to improve standards.
“Profit and safety are not mutually exclusive and the latter has been shown to improve the former,” the President said. “I urge employers in both public and private sectors to adopt and promote proper health and safety policies and programmes at work.” Thomas-Felix said the largest number of deaths came in the construction sector, with 33 between 2006 and 2015. She also gave statistics for reports of non-fatal work accidents. These totalled 377 in 2006; 758 in 2007; 1,059 in 2008; 921 in 2009; 843 in 2010; 904 in 2011; 754 in 2012; 686 in 2014 (no figures were available for 2013), and 895 in 2015.
“In an environment such as ours where there is a large energy sector, a manufacturing sector and an agricultural sector, though small, it is important that workers be provided with the necessary personal protective equipment to protect them from chemical and other hazards,” Thomas-Felix said, adding: “It is imperative that we understand occupational safety and health is obviously desirable but more significantly, redounds to the benefit of not only workers, but businesses, the economy and our wider society. It is a question of human rights, workers’ rights and good business. Moreover, the health and safety of citizens is integral to the development of this nation.” She continued, “It is my hope therefore that there can be a greater understanding and awareness among owners and managers of businesses that proper policies, standards and practice of occupational safety and health must be implemented at the workplace; policies and standards which are critical to the economic success of businesses. For to do otherwise will eventually adversely affect profit margins.” The judge noted the Industrial Court is sitting between August 15 and August 24 in Tobago. She commended judges for forgoing their vacation leave to do so.
About 21 disputes were tackled.
Among the court’s challenges were a shortage of staff and space and the lack of appointments to the Essential Services Division which lost two members who died in 2013.
“I do hope that this issue will be urgently addressed by the relevant authorities,” Thomas-Felix said. She said the court had a disposal rate of 82.2 per cent, or 963 out of 1,171.
On the state of the country, the President said, “We continue to experience an upsurge in crime and criminal activity in this country and we continue to swim in a sea of economic instability and insecurity as declining oil and gas prices have caused governments worldwide to rethink the distribution of the shrinking global and national pie.”