Plug OSHA gap


IT TOOK just about 48 hours for an inspector with the Occupational Safety and Health Authority and Agency (OSHA) to come to the view that there had been breaches of the law in relation to the events of February 25, 2022, at the Paria Fuel Trading Company.

After considering the scene, as well as documents provided by Paria officials, he stated in a brief that a job safety analysis done before the accident was not sufficient; there were key discrepancies in permits; the rescue plan in place was inadequate; and multiple sections of the OSH Act, setting out duties owed to workers, were applicable.

These findings, albeit preliminary ones, were swiftly made more than two years ago and are detailed in the recently published Report of the Commission of Enquiry set up to probe the incident.

To date, however, there has been no verdict in relation to them. The charges laid by OSHA have been left in a protracted legal limbo.

Government cannot allow this to stand.

The limbo arises because of an ambiguity in the law.

One section of the act, passed with great fanfare by our Parliament decades ago, says certain matters have a six-month time limit, while another says there is a two-year limit. In times gone by, the Industrial Court has ruled the six-month window applied to summary offences, while the longer period applied to safety and health offences.

Last year, the Court of Appeal, ruling on a pre-2022 OSHA case, disagreed, finding the shorter window, in fact, applied to both, while the two-year window was relevant only to civil proceedings. OSHA has appealed to the Privy Council. If the shorter time limit holds, there will be implications for cases like that involving Paria and company.

The Cabinet might be tempted to let London decide. That would be a grave error.

There is no guarantee when a ruling will occur. And if the Government can assist OSHA with fulfilling its mandate by passing a clarifying amendment in Parliament, why should it not do so? Much time and expense will be saved.

Importantly, there are several cases before the Industrial Court currently stood down because of the ongoing legal uncertainty. They may soon be joined by others.

Since Paria, several work-site deaths have occurred involving NiQuan, WASA, TCL and the former Arcelor Mittal steel plant.

Meanwhile, the tragedy of February 25, 2022, continues.

Much like the powerful vacuum that developed because of a Delta P situation, taking with it the lives of four divers, there is a glaring hole in accountability.

No official has faced sanction. A lone corporate manslaughter charge is not even certain.

Six months, two years – both can pass in the blink of an eye. Perhaps this was appreciated from day one.


"Plug OSHA gap"

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