Mon | Nov 30, 2020

It must not happen again! … Lawmakers bent on preventing recurrence of gas station disaster

Published:Sunday | March 1, 2020 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter
Scene from the deadly fire at the Heaven’s FESCO Service Station in Mandeville, Manchester last month

The deadly fire at the Heaven’s FESCO service station in Mandeville, Manchester, last month has refuelled concerns about the training of gas station staff and the long-awaited Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) that Prime Minister Andrew Holness promised would be passed by April 1 this year.

The incident, which unfolded about 5:30 p.m. on Friday, February 21, killed 59-year-old Daniel Farquarson, injured seven others, including customers, and destroyed several vehicles. It also sparked fears among members of the public and members of a joint select committee on the OSHA.

Last Thursday, Xavier Mendez, who chairs the joint select committee considering the OSH bill; Opposition Senator Wensworth Skeffery; and Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn were among those who expressed condolence to Farquarson’s family and the victims, while amplifying the importance of the law which has been on the drawing board since the 1990s.

“The situation in Manchester is regrettable. I have not seen a report surrounding the circumstances of the death but, certainly, it was unfortunate. If the death resulted from a safety and health breach, it speaks to the importance of a bill like this,” said Mendez.

“It brings into sharp focus what we have been deliberating on,” added Senator Kavan Gayle, president of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, who was particularly perturbed about the appointment of health and safety officers and their deputies at the discretion of their employers.

“Having been through these discussions and deliberations, and looking at various aspects of the legislation, [I wonder] that if in our own minds we need to review what took place there to inform us properly,” he said.

“It was not a pretty sight, and in a situation like this, we ought to realise that we must allow the proper investigation to take place to determine the safeguards that need to be put in place for us not to have any recurrence anywhere else. As a country, we need to take stock of the need to be more cautious.”

The OSHA is aimed at establishing a framework to protect the rights, health and safety of persons in all areas of economic activity, including public and private sectors, as well as the formal and informal economies.

PM’s Promise

Prime Minister Holness, at a Ministry of Labour and Social Security’s banquet at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in May last year, promised that the bill would be passed in Parliament by last December.

“The bill is now before a joint select committee … and we intend to pass it in this [2019-2020] fiscal year,” Holness said at the time. “We are going to be redirecting attention to the scope of our laws and regulations to clarify responsibilities among the social partners.”

Last Friday, the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (JGRA) announced a raft of measures aimed at increasing safety awareness for the public and gas station workers.

“In order to secure all various permits and licences to operate a gas station, every dealer, along with their respective marketing companies, must have an emergency-preparedness plan that includes a fire-safety procedure,” said JGRA president Gregory Chung of the 330 gas stations islandwide.

“While this has always been the responsibility of the dealer/marketing companies, the JGRA will now be examining the varying fire safety procedures in an effort to compile a minimum requirement that all JGRA members should have in place.”

Vice-president Derrick Thompson said there are discussions under way for the HEART Trust/NSTA to provide pump attendants with safety training.

Meanwhile, Janice Green, national secretary for Jamaica on the International Commission on Occupational Health, said that she is hoping the FESCO fire will fast-track the legislation, helping to build awareness.

“We don’t expect these things to happen, and Jamaicans don’t treat safety as an everyday thing. We take it for granted,” she said.

“Even if we have an OSHA, if people don’t see the seriousness of this thing, they are going to do it the same way.”