Operations at the main laboratory of the Linden Hospital Complex (LHC) were at a standstill for hours yesterday after fumes from an unknown source sent persons scampering from the room and it is expected to be closed for a few days as a number of specialists review the situation.
Meanwhile, Chief Execu-tive Officer of the LHC, Gordon Gumbs said that since they have exhausted all their local resources and expertise on the problem, today a number of external experts would be at the LHC to conduct further investigations.
He said that the Ministry of Labour’s Occupational Health and Safety Division, the Linden Fire Service and the E and E Air Sampling Company (recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency), are all expected at the hospital today. This, he said, would necessitate the main laboratory being closed for a few days.
All services at the main laboratory were put on hold yesterday when the irritating fumes engulfed the room causing employees to experience burning eyes and nostrils and itchy skin.
The fumes have been affecting workers in the department intermittently since December 2010 and according to staff their complaints are not being taken seriously by the management of the hospital.
Regional representative of the Guyana Public Service Union, Maurice Butters said that sometime before noon yesterday he received a call from the workers indicating that the fumes were again affecting them.
He said that they reported that its impact was so severe that they couldn’t remain in the room because of the discomfort they were experiencing.
“This is something that the management of this hospital has been taking lightly for a very long time,” Butters said. He noted that the fumes first surfaced sometime in December 2010 and at that time it had the same effect on workers. Correspondence had been exchanged between the hospital’s management and the union on a number of instances but according to Butters this has been futile.
The most recent letter to the Chief Executive Officer of the LHC gave testimony of the union’s representation for its workers. The letter dated 8th July, 2011 called for something definite and immediate to be done to alleviate their discomfort. “The management is fully aware that since December 2010, there has been a fume circulating in the laboratory which burns their eyes, nose and affects other parts of their body. Repeated complaints were made to you but after six months the management is yet to determine if the fumes are of chemical or gas in nature,” the letter stated.
The long or short-term effect the fumes might have on the workers is of major concern to the union.
Stabroek News caught up with Butters while he was addressing the workers at the front of the laboratory shortly before noon yesterday. There were approximately twenty workers including work study students. At the time he was bringing them up-to-date on the most recent meeting with the hospital’s management.
According to Butters, some management employees were of the opinion that the workers were using the claims about fumes as an excuse not to work.
“That’s how much they care, that’s the level of disrespect they show to us as junior workers.” said one employee who was echoed by several others. It was noted that whenever the fumes surface the environmental health officer is called in. “He would come and do a thing and when he finish they would just spray spray some air freshener and it covers down and the next day we back there,” an employee said.
Butters indicated that over the weekend some cleaning and washing of some major components of the air conditioning was done. This was confirmed by CEO Gumbs who said that since the matter was brought to the attention of the management they have ordered the cessation of all use of chemicals and spraying of the air conditioning coils in the department.
The Region 10 GPSU representative said that they are willing to back their workers with whatever course of action they intend to take. “We can’t tell them to strike but if that is what they decide that they want to do we are 100% behind them because this is a long overdue issue.”
With effect from July 8 the GPSU has given the management of the LCH one month to address the issue of the fumes and other matters relating to junior persons being placed in positions above available senior persons, especially at the Kwakwani Hospital.
“We feel strongly whatever they are talking about is coming from the air conditioning unit.” He added that over the weekend the technicians thoroughly cleaned and washed all the possible components of the AC units in the department. “We can’t think of anything else,” Gumbs stated. He opined that because the AC was off for an extended period over the weekend the fumes that eventually surfaced on Tuesday might have come from the unit.
He said that after reports of the fumes were received yesterday the health officer was sent to investigate and reported not detecting any offensive fumes.
The existence of hazardous fumes was ruled out by the management based on investigations carried out. “The lab staff might be having their own fears but there is nothing hazardous about whatever fumes they are talking about,” Gumbs said.
He found it strange that only the laboratory area was being affected since the entire building is serviced by the same air-handlers which go through different ducts to various departments of the hospital.