Poor indoor air quality affecting scores of J'can workers
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Scores of Jamaicans are getting sick at work because of the poor quality of the air inside the buildings.
Employees who have experienced symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs at work could all be facing poor indoor air quality.
However, the Jamaica Occupational Health Professionals' Association (JOHPA) notes that this is not unique to Jamaica.
"A growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air, even the largest and most industrialised cities," JOHPA said in a release last week.
"Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 per cent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors," added JOHPA.
It noted that as the world focuses on occupational health and safety, the paradigm is shifting towards air quality and the severe health effects that result from breathing poor-quality air.
"This begs the question: if the ambient air is polluted, what about the indoor environment?"
There are several factors that contribute to poor indoor air quality. These include inadequate ventilation, problems controlling temperature, too high or too low humidity, recent remodelling, and other activities in or near a building that can affect the adequacy and quality of fresh air into the building.
Contaminants such as dust from construction or renovation, mould, cleaning supplies, pesticides, or other airborne contaminants may also contribute to poor indoor air quality.
The issue is close to the heart of Opposition Senator Kavan Gayle, who heads the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU).
The BITU represents thousands of Jamaican workers.
Gayle has tabled questions in the Senate about the outstanding occupational safety legislation to amend the 73-year-old Factories Act.
He has also tabled a motion that the issue be debated and that the Government bring a bill to Parliament to enact new legislation.
According to Gayle, Jamaica must move quickly away from the 1940s Factories Act, "to a more comprehensive Occupational Safety and Health Act".
Justice Minister Mark Golding has said he expects the chief parliamentary counsel to deliver a draft of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security this week.
Gayle, meanwhile, said the OSHA should include equitable global health and safety standards, as Jamaica competes in a global environment.
'Allergies and sinusitis'
"You go into a building and the minute you enter you start coughing or sneezing. It means the air quality in that room is compromised, because of simple things, among them dirty air-conditioning ducts," argued Gayle.
He noted that the exposure to poor air quality in buildings could cause employees to develop "allergies and sinusitis".
The president general of the BITU suggested that employers could improve the quality of air inside a building by doing the simple things, such as removing a dirty carpet.
"Take up the carpet and you will see how health is improved," he said.
Gayle further argued that employees' health is compromised when a building is painted while they are at work, or a desk varnished a day before usage.
"Both employee and clients are exposed to the poisonous fumes," stated Gayle.
"What should be in place are the checks and balances to ensure that companies provide the proper working conditions for all workers, and to protect workers, for their own safety, in a way that goes outside of just checking a building," Gayle said.
Poisonous internal air quality and the effects on the health of employees over the long term will be the main focus of a JOHPA seminar this Wednesday.
This seminar will provide in-depth, up-to-date and relevant information and research on the present paradigm in building design operation and maintenance.
It will also focus on the alarming potential number of workers exposed to sick building syndrome (SBS), the economic impact of SBS for Jamaica, the spread of diseases in the working environment, and practical guidance for improving and maintaining the indoor environment.