The Daily Gleaner headlines of May 11, 2016, screamed “A Royal Mess”, and just below another tag “Engineering company not registered”. Yesterday words came that a building under construction in Negril collapsed, trapping workers beneath the rubble and debris. Luckily, no lives were lost in this incident, but six workers were injured.
With the news of the incidents spreading like the recent Alberta wildfire, key personnel from the Ministries of Tourism, Local Government, and Labour rushed to the scene. I guess that is part and parcel of the exercise to show the system acting in the “public’s interest”. However, the actions of the political and policy implementation directorates of Government are too reactive to prevent accidents of this nature. It is not the first time a building under construction in the tourism belt collapsed. Therefore, the question that should be on everyone’s lips is simply this; what corrective measures were taken after the first building collapsed several years ago?
My initial response to this accident is to ask the following questions:
- Does the Hanover Parish Council have the capacity to inspect the construction of multi-story buildings, like what was being constructed in Negril, and if it doesn’t was there any support sought from the Ministry of Local Government or any other Government Agencies to provide the necessary resources?
- Did the contractor have in place a work safety plan? Were the safety regulations for the Royalton’s construction of the same standard as that for Digicel’s headquarters in Downtown Kingston?
- If the answer to the preceding question is in the affirmative, was this document filed with the Ministry of Labour?
- Who is/are the Structural Engineer(s) of record for this project?
- Are the Structural Engineer(s) registered and have a current practicing certificate/Certificate of Authorization that is normally issued by the Professional Engineers Registration Board?
- What are the applicable building codes being used considering that the Building Act 2010 has been languishing in the Parliament for well over five years, with no certainty as to when it will be tabled, debated, and enacted into law?
I asked these questions because it goes to the heart of any analysis of the accident. A failure of this nature can be due either to design flaws, construction flaws, or failure to adhere to safe working practices. The primary purpose of any failure analysis is to determine the cause of the failure and to recommend measures that would prevent such accidents happening in the future.
Hence, while the comment by the Minister of Local Government in demanding a report of the accident within 24 hours maybe seen as the political directorate protecting the public interest, unfortunately it is not.
Protection of the public interest starts from the conception of the designs and the professionals involved, as these professionals should be properly licensed and insured. It then moved to the plan examiners and engineering reviewers, before the permit to begin construction is granted.
During construction, building inspectors (along with Occupational Health and Safety Inspectors) carry out regular inspection of the various building works covering structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing elements. Once the construction is complete, the requisite Certificate of Occupancy is then granted. That is how the public interest is protected, and it is within this context I am arguing that a proper failure analysis exercise be undertaken by the requisite professionals.
The real tragedy however will be the nine (9) day wonder and then everything about the accident is forgotten. The public will never know the real cause(s) of the failure, the steps recommended to prevent such accidents from ever happening in the future, or that anyone was held accountable. The matter will just die like the evening setting sun on the western horizon, never to be resurrected on the rising sun, unless there is a paradigm shift. Only this time, fortunately, no lives were lost, next time we may not be so lucky.