Barama worker Jason Fraser’s death has been ruled an industrial accident and the company has received permission to resume its Buckhall operation after several occupational safety recommendations were made.
Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud, in a letter to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Barama Company Limited (BCL) Clement Ooi, gave approval for the company to resume operation at its Veneer Plant at Buckhall. Approval was granted after Ooi wrote to the Ministry informing that BCL had submitted the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and Monitoring Protocol for the factory.
Ooi had expressed concerns to the Agriculture Ministry about the impact closure would have on the company’s market commitments and employment.
In his letter to the Barama CEO, Persaud explained that he had consulted with Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir on the issue and strongly emphasized the importance of complying with OHS standards. BCL, Persaud said, “must undertake to execute all outlined safety protocols.” The Ministry of Labour, with support from the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), he added, will closely monitor the implementation of the protocols.
The GFC, he further said, has also been directed to intensify its monitoring of the activities at the Buckhall plant, to ensure that the protocols agreed to are effectively implemented. “I expect that all agreed commitments will be fully and effectively implemented by Barama Company Limited in all aspects of its operation,” Persaud wrote.
Barama’s OHS practices came under scrutiny after the remains of Fraser were discovered on September 2 in the wood shredding machine, three days after he was reported missing. Fraser had been employed at Barama’s Buckhall operations for about two months.
The Ministry of Agriculture had subsequently ordered the company to close its operations at Buckhall to facilitate an investigation by the Ministry of Labour. After the order from the Agriculture Ministry, which is responsible for the forestry sector, Barama announced that it was closing all its locations to facilitate intense training of employees.
Labour Minister Nadir, speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, said that the investigation concluded that Fraser’s death was an industrial accident. The man’s relatives had previously expressed a belief that he may have been murdered. Fraser, according to Nadir, is the third Barama employee to die this year. Figures recorded by the Ministry of Labour indicate that Barama has had the most fatalities due to industrial accidents so far this year.
There have been 20 fatal industrial accidents to date and three of these were reported from Barama. Nadir further added that this year there have been five more industrial deaths than 2009. In 2005 and 2006, Nadir said, there were 5 to 6 reported cases of industrial deaths.
The other 17 cases of industrial fatalities this year came mainly from the mining industry, Nadir said. He further added that close attention will be paid to Barama since the number of accidents they have reported makes them seem more and more like a “crisis company.”
The ministry, Nadir explained, has reviewed and investigated fatal and non-fatal accidents which have occurred at Barama over the last two to three years. This investigation, the minister explained, was headed by the Chief Labour Officer (CLO) Yoganand Persaud. In his report to the Labour Minister, CLO Persaud made 13 OHS recommendations which should be implemented at Barama. These recommendations have since been forwarded to Barama CEO Ooi. Among the recommendations were: machine operators should be properly supervised and trained; CCTV (Close Circuit Television) must be installed in high risk areas; OHS Committees must function effectively and meet regularly; safety signs must be posted in appropriate locations; the company must not alter or interfere with the scene of an accident until clearance is given by the Ministry of Labour; and there must be a log out system to track the whereabouts of employees.
The recommendations indicate OHS practices were not up-to-date at the time of Fraser’s death. It was only after the man’s death that the company made a grand effort to provide “additional” training for employees. Nadir –when asked whether Barama’s move to train employees after Fraser’s death was reactive and was used as a measure of damage control–stated that no matter how many precautions a company takes, accidents can never be avoided. Although Barama has the highest recorded number of industrial fatalities, he added, it in no way indicates that the company has failed to provide adequate training or a safe working environment for employees.
He said the fact that Barama has the highest number of recorded industrial fatalities is an indicator that “too much risk” is being taken. It is yet to be determined whether the risk is being taken by the employees or by the company. However, he stressed that there are cases where employees are the ones who put themselves at risk and the consequences are then felt by their employers.
Although it is one of the duties of the Labour Ministry to inspect companies, Nadir said, there is not a set amount of visits to be made to any company over a certain period of time. Over the last years, he added, it has been noticed that majority of deaths come from the mining sector so much attention is given to the sector.