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.
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
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
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
Study factors that might have affected the
Assess the level of emergency response preparedness;
Prepare a report with his findings, including recommendations.
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
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
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
Deficiencies in the maintenance of the emergency
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
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.
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
Mr. Obadia also made the following national
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
Bahamas should formally ratify the main Occupational Safety and Health
Convention 198 and Protocol 2002 related to recording occupational accidents.
Bahamas should develop a set of technical regulations defining occupational health
and safety requirements for particular occupations and hazards.
Bahamas should strengthen and expand the Occupational Health and Safety
training of labour inspectors.
Bahamas should participate in regional occupational safety networking systems
which are designed to exchange information;
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
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
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
BELOW IS AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION REPORT done by: Jacques Obadia, Occupational Safety and Health Expert