By Michael Jordan
The faulty construction of a bauxite pit at Kwakwani could have caused one of its walls to collapse last October,
resulting in 20-year-old assistant surveyor Franklyn Reece being buried alive and his colleague Anthony Johnson sustaining spinal injuries.
Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir said yesterday that this is one of the findings of a preliminary investigation into the tragedy at RUSAL Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI)’s Block Five mines.
Nadir told Kaieteur News that investigations revealed that the walls of the approximately five-metre deep pit were constructed vertically.
He explained that mining pits that are more than two metres deep should be constructed with sloping walls or should have reinforced walls.
In addition, the fact that workers may have been using heavy duty equipment close to the poorly constructed pit could also have triggered the wall’s collapse, the Labour Minister said.
According to Nadir, BCGI has been constructing their pits in this manner in the past.
“This is an issue of poor safety practices…this is an area that we will look at,” the Minister said, while stressing that the investigation was still in its preliminary stage.
But he also expressed concern that company officials had failed to notify his Ministry of the tragedy.
“We want to remind businessmen that any death at the workplace should be reported. In this case, we had to get in touch with the company (RUSAL). This is another serious violation, so we will have to step up our surveillance of companies in regard to accidents and deaths,” Nadir emphasized, while noting that RUSAL had a senior labour officer in its employ.
According to reports, Reece, Johnson and Senior Supervisor Dion Ross were taking samples from the Block Five Mines, Kwakwani, when one of the walls of the pit collapsed.
Reece was reportedly buried beneath a huge pile of rubble.
Johnson, who was also injured, was rushed to the Kwakwani Hospital before being transferred to a city hospital with suspected spinal injuries.
In a statement, BCGI said that the company would be offering compensation to Reece’s family and would stand all of Anthony’s medical expenses.
A team has been appointed to determine if regulations to ensure occupational safety and health might have been breached.
The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) has blamed the Government for the industrial accident, while claiming that Government officials had denied “a section of Guyanese labour their right to work in a healthy environment, and respect their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.”
The GTUC said that RUSAL’s track record has been brought continuously to the attention of Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and Labour Minister Nadir since 2009, with little action being taken to rectify the situation.
The body said that RUSAL has now hired former Chief Labour Officer and Occupational Health and Safety Officer, Mohamed Akeel, and with Government clearly on the company’s side, the situation has become intolerable for workers.
The union drew reference to other incidents, including the May 2009 action in which workers were forced to down tools in protest against the defective mining equipment they were given to work with, and after some workers fell ill.
GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis also made reference to the ongoing two-year standoff in which 57 workers were dismissed by the company for taking strike action over working conditions.
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