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LEFT OF CENTRE: No sense of urgency

Roy Ward

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Any property, whether private, commercial or Government, faces the risk at some time of having its physical infrastructure breached by the impact of a natural or technological hazard.
When asked if Barbados is paying enough attention to hazard and risk management, specialists in occupational safety and health and emergency management say no. Such an answer is based on the fact that there is low prioritization of risk identification and hazard management in the public and private sectors, and by homeowners.
This rather dim view is enforced statistically by the low quantity of structural damage recorded from natural hazards by homeowners.
It is further supported by the limited number of personal injuries resulting from a failure in the safety and health protocols in the private sector which, when analyzed,  does not indicate life-threatening injury statistics.
It also suggests that no consequences are anticipated due to the absence of safety policies in private and public sector administrative and manufacturing entities.
This in itself is a direct contravention of any legislation that supervises the activities of an employee, but without enforcement of penalties, changes in behaviour may never occur.
Worrying examples of how societies, including Barbados, view the subject of hazard identification, risk management and preparedness are many. In Barbados, there are warehouses with a rudimentary fire alert, warning and suppression systems.
There are multistorey buildings with limited fire escape systems for occupants; retail outlets and other businesses with high-volume customer traffic who are still operating with single entry and exits.
Then there are homeowners investing in luxury items, fittings, fixtures and furniture, but not investing in hurricane shutters or hurricane straps for roofs.
The passing of Hurricane Ivan and Tropical Storm Tomas did not affect the public or private sector to any major extent, but has forced private sector management and Government to stringently enforce any regulations in place that would thereby radically change the attitude of both sectors.
In general, the population recognizes that the country is vulnerable to natural and technological hazards but the low frequency of occurrence tends to support a rather laid-back approach to hazard identification and mitigation. This approach further strengthens the complacency that is prevalent in the society.
Barbados has not been severely impacted by any natural hazard in the past 25 years. In the same time period, the occurrence of industrial fires, while causing widespread damage to plant and infrastructure, did not cause any loss of life.
The same, however, cannot be said for house fires, in which some have lost their lives.
Against this background, emergency management and occupational health and safety (OHS) specialists continue to hold the opinion that more needs to be done in the area of hazard identification, risk management and OHS.
Recent industrial fires, severe flooding and near misses by weather systems, while making headlines, did not, at a personal level, cause society to display any sense of urgency about the serious question, “Is Barbados paying enough attention to hazard and risk management?”
Based on this snapshot of societal behaviour, the answer must unfortunately be a very alarming no.
• Roy Ward is an emergency management consultant.