‘Don’t blame us’ - NEPA defends itself after collapse of a section of a hotel site in Negril
As the debate continues over who is to be blamed for the collapse of a section of the under-construction Royalton Luxury Resorts' Blue Diamond hotel in Hanover, in which five construction workers were injured, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has declared that it was never derelict in its regulatory role.
"I don't want to say too much about it because I have decided that I am not going to comment, but we have taken a lot of flak and I just want to put on the record that the NEPA has done what it was required to do," Peter Knight, chief executive officer, of the state agency, told The Sunday Gleaner.
"We have monitored the permits and licences; we have cited the developer; we have tried to get the local authorities to work with us - which didn't work out in a positive way. We have spent quite a lot of time and resources in monitoring that development. So when we saw the brouhaha, I mean, we were satisfied that we did what we needed to do," added Knight.
Local environmental watchdog, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), had taken issue with NEPA in light of the fact that its inspection of the construction site in January had found that the development was in contradiction of the approved building plans.
"There were blocks being erected with deviations from what was approved, to include number of rooms per floor, breaks between blocks and building outline and layout. For example, the ground floor of blocks one and two showed 12 rooms on the approved plans, but 14 were constructed, which would constitute four additional rooms per block if the number of floors is maintained," JET reported.
About 6 o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, May 10, scaffolding at a section of the building collapsed, triggering widescale speculation about the integrity of the material used in its construction.
Knight argued that a number of persons, including journalists, had wrongly attributed the accident to a breakdown in the approval process.
"I want to make the point because I think that is what has caught the national attention. You can't relate a construction accident to approval process. In other words, the persons were building so fast and that's where the mistake came ... but what we see in the newspapers that you all write is that the material and so on, all of it was found to be appropriate," the NEPA head insisted.
A three-member technical team appointed by Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie to review the circumstances leading to the accident did find that all the scaffolding, with the exception of the section which collapsed, to be structurally sound.
However, JET believes the regulatory agency should have done much more than issue warning notices when it found the developers had deviated from the approved building plan.
"NEPA's willingness to enforce sanctions for breaches continues to be of concern, as the permittee has been allowed to continue development despite the blatant disregard for the conditions in the permit. It is clear that more needs to be done than simply issuing warning notices regarding the same breaches," JET argued.
Work has since resumed on a section of the construction site.
Gov't promises OSHA this year
Minister of Labour Shahine Robinson has promised the tabling of the long awaited Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill in Parliament this fiscal year.
According to Robinson, the recent collapse at the Royalton Hotel in Hanover and the fatal accident at the Azul (Karisma) Hotel construction sites underscore the urgent need for this.
"The Occupational Safety and Health Bill will present a paradigm shift as businesses will be required to establish:
"* OSH systems including joint safety and health committees
"* Competent safety and health representatives and programs that will ensure active monitoring and management of risks in our workplaces.
"This framework will significantly reduce the occurrences and severity of workplace accidents throughout Jamaica. In fact ... this Bill will be a game changer, covering all enterprises for safety, including private homes where domestic workers are employed.
"Worker safety and well-being are important ingredients for wealth creation; safe and healthy workers are the Ministry's guarantee towards growth and prosperity."