ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) is set to visit Antigua & Barbuda early next year to assist the Ministry of Health in addressing the situation of deteriorating air quality in both public and private work offices.
Chief Health Inspector Lionel Michael said the current poor conditions are damaging people’s health and having a detrimental impact on the economy.
“We are experiencing indoor air quality problems that are having an impact on productivity and man-hours and affecting the economy. There are some offices that finish work at 12, some offices that finish work at 11 and some people are reporting ill several times during the course of the month,” Michael said.
The chief health inspector said the poor state of several buildings “is affecting productivity in the country and so indoor air quality problems are contributing to increased costs of doing business, not only in government offices but in the private sector also.”
Ironically, it is the building which houses the Ministry of Health that is the biggest culprit when it comes to not only poor indoor air quality but overall health standards.
In February this year, that building was declared unfit for workers after a fire safety report confirmed the presence of asbestos in the roofing as well as documenting a number of other health and safety failings.
The report at the time warned, among other dangers, “Inhaling asbestos fibres can lead to the development of illnesses such as asbestos poisoning and lung cancer.”
However 10 months, later workers continue to operate out of the building, although only on a half day basis, despite Chief Medical Officer Dr Rhonda Sealy-Thomas warning back in February that “it’s not conditions under which workers should be allowed to continue to work.”
The chief health inspector, however, hopes to bring some relief to the workers at the Ministry of Health, who have had to endure the cancer-causing conditions as well as other buildings affected by poor indoor air quality when PAHO comes on island in 2012.
“In 2012 we will be assisted by the PAHO to do some serious work with regard to indoor air quality issues in Antigua & Barbuda and workers’ health,” Michael said.
There has been a number of plans to relocate the workers from the Ministry of Health building, located on High and Long streets, but none have materialised to date.
Meanwhile Michael said poor health conditions at work is a widespread problem and that the department’s investigations reveal that the majority of employees who complain their workplaces are making them sick are justified in doing so.
The chief health inspector said the Central Board of Health is looking to acquire more air quality monitoring equipment.
He said the department has also had meetings with commercial cleaners about the types of chemicals they should and should not use since these can seep into the floors and cause air quality problems.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)