St. John’s Antigua- Chief Health Inspector Lionel Michael has blamed poor structural design, among other matters, for causing the health problems that have plagued staffers and caused the cancellation of a full day’s proceedings in recent weeks in the High Court of Justice.
A report dated October 31, 2011 notes that “poor structural design and office lay out, cleaning procedures and other physical and chemical agents, inappropriate handling of records and storage” have contributed to poor air quality.
Michael also noted that the building is equipped with a single, overburdened central air conditioning unit that frequently malfunctions. The poor air quality issue is compounded, the chief health inspector said, by the fact the windows in the building are sealed.
Michael said these issues were responsible for 90 per cent of the problems at the High Court. He urged “stringent corrective actions to be taken.”
Michael’s report notes that employees complain of headaches, dizzy and fainting spells, and a burning sensation in the nostril and throat, “all of which were experienced only when at the workplace.”
The six-person team of inspectors, during their two-day assignment, complained that they had experienced some of the symptoms, including tightness of head and chest, like the employees.
Other concerns addressed in the health-and-safety hazard probe included the poor storage of paperwork. The report said the boxes, which are stacked in the office, hold chemical agents and dust, that the investigators said create respiratory hazards.
The ceiling on the first floor, standing 9’6” high, was deemed to low to aid good air circulation.
The report also classified as “aesthetically repulsive” the watermarks and stains leading from the restroom on the second floor to the restroom on the first floor, which Michael said are consistent with the presence of sewage.
The absence of pipe-borne water was also listed as a health hazard.
Central Board of Health was called to inspect the building after employees fell ill, each complaining of the same symptoms.
Last week, media reports indicated that Justice Jennifer Remy was conducting her matters from an office in the St John’s Magistrates Court. This came after her illness forced the adjournment of the keenly watched court challenge brought by Sir Gerald Watt against the prime minister and others over electoral matters.
Other cases, including the conclusion of the Chin murder trial and the most recent attempt at a sentencing hearing for the high-profile Mullany murder, were staged in the Magistrates Court last week.
The 15 recommendations include retrofitting the building with windows that can be opened; the installation of individual A/C units for each office; the installation of extractor fans; the establishment of an electronic database to eliminate paperwork; and the discontinuance of cleaning during regular working hours.
Health and Safety related issues identified in the High Court by a team from the Central Board of Health
Air Quality: the obstruction of the entry of atmospheric air due to poor structural design due to all sealed windows that eliminates the natural cross flow of atmospheric air, which, undoubtedly, would have helped to create a mixture of balanced air circulating within the building
A morass of paperwork, some strewn around, old record books with a collection of dust particles, photocopying and fax machines were located within close proximity (about 5 feet) of the nearest employees
Cleaning procedures done during working hours, the sanitizing and disinfectant agents used reportedly have redolent residual odour; some staff members are still complaining of experiencing headaches, nausea, dizzy spells and respiratory symptoms, in addition to feeling uncomfortably cold as a consequence of the A/C unit still not being properly modulated
There was no access to pipe-borne running water under pressure for hand-washing, drinking or to flush water closets
A general feeling of claustrophobia and tightness of the head and chest experienced by health officers who carried out the inspection over the two-day period. These symptoms were consistent with those reported by most staff members, especially those working on the first floor