Tue | Mar 9, 2021

Earl Bailey | Dangerous workplaces risking health of workers

Published:Friday | December 20, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Jamaican employers need to fundamentally rethink and seriously improve the health and safety of the work environment they are providing for their employees to be productive. With the projected greying of the population and increasing windfall effects of urbanisation, employees are exposed to toxic elements from multiple directions.

The inability of employees to provide safe and healthy workplace for employees will become an increasing area for legal actions. There are some seriously potential workplace agents that research is showing to increase worker’s/employee’s predisposition to cancer.


Increasing studies are showing that gas station attendants and other workers who frequent the vicinity of gas stations are predisposed to cancer-causing agents.

After studying some 40 gas station attendants and pairing them with 40 control subjects, one research concluded that chromosomal instability, elevated DNA damage and cell redistribution inter alia, all points to a clear risk for their health and could be classified as cancer predisposition. The increasing density of gas stations within the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) is also a highly potential source of cancer.


Air-conditioning units that are regularly malfunctioning and are not regularly and routinely maintained are another health risk. The first note is that the A/C conditions the air. Air-conditioning units within the Kingston Metropolitan Area are charged with the responsibility of not only keeping office and homes cool, but to also ‘condition’ and clean the air that people are inhaling within the enclosed offices and homes. Within the KMA, this air is mainly full of motor vehicle exhausts.

Malfunctioning and dirty air-conditioning units are associated with increasing nasal congestion, headache, fatigue and skin irritation, many of the carcinogenic effects that increase cardiovascular ill-health, as workers are exposed to millions of microorganisms that are build up in dirty filters.


Finally, the design and layout of offices and other buildings also have health implications; not only by virtue of the material used in construction, but also the ability of the design to assist with air circulation and sunlight reaching all areas at some point during the day.

Within the design parameters, there are concerns about the placement of office furniture such as photocopiers and printers, Internet servers and uninterrupted powers supply (UPS) units.

Modern homes and offices are now full of microwave and radio wave-emitting devices. Not to mention those responsible for background noise, leading to hearing anomalies. The colour of walls and placement of lighting may also increase concerns for sight.


These are just morsels of the concerns for workplace health and safety. Research is increasingly validating many long-held concerns. Workers owe it to their employees to provide safe and healthy environments for productivity.

No amount of insurance can replace a life that could have been saved by simply ensuring that air-conditioning units are regularly and effectively cleaned, copy machines are placed in properly ventilated areas, or that gas station attendants are given the opportunity to work shorter hours without reduced pay, just to ensure their good health.

The concerns of health and safety related to building occupation are increasing and Jamaicans will need to increase awareness and counter these actions.

Earl Bailey, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica; programme director of Urban and Regional Planning, UTech; vice-president of Jamaica Institute of Planners; and consultant development planner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.