Senator the Honourable Dion A. Foulkes
Minister of Labour and Social Development
26 July 2010
Independent Investigation Report
Tornado Incident at the
Freeport Container Port,
Grand Bahama on 29 March 2010
On the 29th of March 2010 between 11:00 and 11:30 a.m. a tornado struck Grand Bahama. The Freeport Container Port was particularly hard hit. It resulted in the deaths of three people and injuries to six others.
As promised, an investigation by the Department of Labour was completed.However, it was further decided that an investigation was needed by an independent party with no ties to the Government of The Bahamas or the Freeport Container Port Company.
Accordingly, the International Labour Organization (ILO) was asked to recommend an expert who could complete such an investigation in a timely, proficient and transparent manner. The ILO often recommends such experts on matters dealing with the health and safety of workers around the world.
In this instance the ILO recommended Mr. Jacques Obadia, an Occupational Safety and Health Expert with vast experience and a record of integrity in such investigations.
The Government of The Bahamas thanks the ILO for suggesting Mr. Obadia as a consultant. He quickly completed his assignment and has presented a clear and concise report. The Government also thanks Mr. Obadia for his considerable efforts.
Today, I am tabling Mr. Obadia’s report in this honourable chamber. During the course of my communication, I will comment on significant aspects of this report. I will also generally indicate how the Government intends to proceed in terms of ensuring even better conditions of health and safety for Bahamian workers.
The terms of reference for Mr. Obadia’s investigation were as follows:
Review different aspects of the incident;
Analyze the sequence of events before and after the incident;
Study factors that might have affected the outcome;
Assess the level of emergency response preparedness; and
Prepare a report with his findings, including recommendations.
In the course of his investigation Mr. Obadia spoke with employees of the Freeport Container Port at the site. He also reviewed the information that was compiled on the incident by the Freeport Container Port and the Department of Labour.
While many are familiar with the story through news or other reports, I wish to share with the Senate, the general report of Mr. Obadia. Of necessity, I will, summarize elements of his report.
During the morning of 29 March 2010, the weather was inclement, producing rain, gusts of wind and even hail. The winds grew increasingly heavy around 11 a.m.
The tornado struck the Container Port at approximately 11:20 and was gone before 11:30.
In that time, one crane was propelled over 100 meters or approximately 328 feet and four others were pushed into the last crane which fell to the ground. All deaths and injuries occurred at this time.
While the Bahamas Department of Meteorology was aware of the thunderstorms moving across the island, the Freeport Container Port report of the incident states that the company was not made aware of possible tornado activity on the island until 11:17 a.m.
This was two minutes after information about the formation of a tornado at the south side of the terminal was radioed to the main office of the Container Port.
The Grand Bahama International Airport had recently installed an Aviation Automatic Weather Observing System. The system meets the standard of several international aviation organizations.
The airport was aware of severe storm activity from earlier that morning. The information was passed from the airport to the Bahamas Department of Meteorology in Nassau but not directly to the Freeport Container Port, as the Department of Meteorology was the only agency with the authority to issue severe weather advisories.
Mr. Obadia found that emergency preparedness throughout the Caribbean and The Bahamas are geared toward hurricanes rather than tornadoes.
In this case the Freeport Container Port Emergency Response Manual defined a number of steps to be taken in the event of a hurricane. Because of this, preparation for powerful storms usually takes place over several days.
Mr. Obadia advises in his report:
According to the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the average time between tornado warnings and tornado hits is 13 minutes. It is difficult to predict if a thunderstorm formation will create a tornado.
Mr. Obadia also notes:
While the Freeport Container Port has protocols for shutting down operations in the event of high winds, wind speed had been fluctuating all day and therefore no such protocols were initiated until after the tornado was sighted.
He further notes:
After it was clear that the tornado had passed, emergency response was quick and coordinated.
The expert based his conclusions and recommendations on the following facts and observations:
The brevity of the incident;
The general lack of experience with tornadoes;
The absence of on-site weather monitoring systems;
Deficiencies in the maintenance of the emergency equipment;
The high wind speeds prior to the tornado to which employees had become accustomed;
Safety rules were not designed for brief and violent events like tornadoes;
While workers at the port facility did have radios and warnings were issued, there was no mechanism that issued warnings on all channels;
The apparent practice of leaving cranes unsecured and a lack of awareness of the severity of the storm;
The trajectory of the tornado; and
The Freeport Container Port’s Safety, Emergency and Equipment Operations manuals.
Mr. Obadia made recommendations for the Container Port and for The Bahamas generally.
He recommended that the Container Port improve communications with the Bahamas Department of Meteorology and further investigate how the general maintenance of the wind speed indicators at the site could be improved.
Mr. Obadia also recommended back-up battery power for wind speed indicators and that a sound alarm system was needed.
He noted that instructions in the Safety Handbook and the Emergency Response Manual should be clarified as they pertain to emergencies in which the warning time is very short.
Further, he suggested that the radio system of the Freeport Container Port should be improved so as to send emergency communications on all channels.
At the national level, Mr. Obadia noted that Occupational Safety and Health is governed under the 2002 Health and Safety at Work Act. In his opinion, while the act has a good general framework, it can be strengthened by the development of regulations specific to different economic sectors.
Mr. Obadia also made the following national recommendations:
· Consideration should be given to amending the Health and Safety at Work Act in order to more closely accord with the provisions of the I.L.O.’s Safety and Health Convention.
· The Bahamas should formally ratify the main Occupational Safety and Health Convention 198 and Protocol 2002 related to recording occupational accidents.
· The Bahamas should develop a set of technical regulations defining occupational health and safety requirements for particular occupations and hazards.
· The Bahamas should strengthen and expand the Occupational Health and Safety training of labour inspectors.
· The Bahamas should participate in regional occupational safety networking systems which are designed to exchange information;
· The Bahamas should advance the professional certification of occupational health and safety practitioners in order to ensure that skills and experience in this area are updated periodically.
I am pleased to report that this Government had begun to take steps in a number of the aforementioned areas prior to the tragic events of 29h March 2010. Since then our pace has quickened.
It should be noted that occupational safety is a priority component of theDecent WorkCountry Programme ofThe Bahamas. Relatedly, the ILO is already committed to carrying out a complete audit of our occupational safety and health functions, as well as the current legislation governing these areas.
The Government will further enhance theLabour Department’s ability to play a moreproactive role in raising awareness about occupational health and safety.
The Department of Labour will be strengthening its labour inspectorate and increasing its capacity for the supervision and enforcement of national labour legislation.
Additionally, the Government will be reviewing the recommendations regarding ratification of those instruments that will assist us with improving our legislative regime in the area of occupational health and safety.
At this time we have three labour officers in training in the field of Occupational Safety.
The events of 29 March 2010 were indeed tragic. The injury and loss of life remain a source of anguish and deep pain for many families and communities.
Along with our grief we must act. We must honour the memories of those lost, while addressing the burden on those left behind. We must provide appropriate care for those injured.
As importantly we must address the occupational health and safety needs of those in the workplace across The Bahamas.
Accordingly, this Government is determined to put in place and cause to be put in place measures that will help in the prevention of other such tragedies.
Following our own investigations and by commissioning an independent investigation through the good offices of the International Labour Organization, the Government continues to recognize the need for ongoing and vigorous improvements in occupational safety.
It is the Government’s intention that such improvements not only benefit the workers of the Freeport Container Port. They must and will also benefit workers throughout the country.
Thank you, Madam President.
BELOW IS AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION REPORT done by: Jacques Obadia, Occupational Safety and Health Expert