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To the Editor:

The development of St. Kitts-Nevis as we seek to meet our Millennium Goal pledges and the aspiration of our people demands not only social and economic progress, but strong and healthy workers who would build and improve the physical infrastructure of the nation. The hotels, the roads, the schools, the hospitals, the places of business must be designed and built by competent individuals and firms who appreciate the need for the health and safety of the workers and users of the built environment.

Developing countries continue to follow and use educational systems inherited from the colonial powers. The lack of information on successful initiatives and programmes, and suitable channels of exchange of risk assessment in Health and safety results hinder cooperation.  The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (UK), was aimed at solving the problems facing employees in the work place:

•to improve performance,

•for policy development and planning;

•for performance monitoring;

•to involve employees in decision making;

•for training and communication

There is a range of Health and Safety Laws under Construction Design and Management Regulations (CDM) 2007 aimed at making sure people are safe on construction sites. Practices and current approaches pertaining to Health and Safety, though, are at a crossroad in the federation and emphasis must be placed on central coordination and monitoring of all initiatives and development of construction sector.  Every principal contractor must plan, manage and coordinate work during the project to make sure that risks are properly controlled.

Human resource development in education, training and continuous professional development must be addressed to relieve the scarcity of skilled construction personnel. In St. Kitts-Nevis, training in health and safety at work must be designed to better serve national and regional needs to sustain development.

A symbiosis between government and the construction sector in education and training must be sought.  Continued professional development in education for professionals must be organised by institutions and agencies and be made mandatory for practitioners.  The standard of professionalism in construction in the federation needs to be improved.  Given the challenges these parties face, flexibility, initiatives and innovation must become attributes of construction practitioners in St. Kitts-Nevis.  This must be addressed by tertiary education and continuing professional development courses.  Contractor’s development must be discussed in detail, by stressing the need for effective, innovative and corporate structures.

Efforts must also be made to create and strengthen the architectural and engineering consultancies capacity, capability, performance monitoring and inspection in St. Kitts and Nevis.

The government and professional institutions and trade associations must contribute to the efforts to improve the legislations and health and safety standards.  In some cases dedicated oversight bodies need to be created; in others cases existing regulators need to be more accountable.  All stakeholders must assume greater responsibility.  Government and private sector should sponsor continual monitoring and review and regulate the local trends in all aspects of construction to mitigate health and safety risks.

The Ministry of Education should also commission studies through the Technical and Vocational Division of the CFBC to identify and counter the issues that face the building sector.  This must provide a medium through which companies with new technology and management can share their experiences for overall growth in the sector.  The research will also offer informed and constructive comments, and seek to influence government policies and arrangements for controlling significant health risks and accidents on construction sites.

The failure of efforts in the building sector stems from weaknesses in research on the subject and the policy on which they are based, lack of application of research results and policies, and difficulties relating to and  or mistakes in such application.  Changes in direction of health and safety practices on construction sites are required in the federation.  A long term national strategy for sustainable development is required.  This must guide action at different levels which must be synchronised, continuously coordinated and continually monitored.

Dr. Landrith Isaac, Ph.D.

Basseterre, St. Kitts

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