Workers at the Barbados Statistical Service walked off the job for the second week as a pungent stench permeated their fifth-floor office at Baobab Tower, Warrens.
The staff again vented their frustration to Barbados TODAY, stating that after myriad health challenges nothing was being done to combat the recurring problem which forces them from their offices.
The BSS shop steward for the National Union of Public Workers Kimberley Agard suggested that workers were reaching the end of their tether with the recurrence of the same issues which forced them off the job last Monday.
“We are at our wit’s end. We don’t know what to do but we are thinking that we need to do something else because we are not sure that it is being taken seriously,” she said, adding that they have given the relevant agencies enough time to find and solve the issue causing the pungent odour which is triggering respiratory issues.
“Last week Monday we would have made a form of demonstration to show that we were frustrated with the working conditions. There were some investigations . . . allegedly done . . . and we were told that they found pipes that were not on the plans and these could probably be the reason behind the stench,” Agard said.
“We were told to give it a chance [and] we agreed to that and on Friday the stench wasn’t there but persons still experienced the respiratory issues; the burning face, sore throat, burning face, and runny eyes,” she said.
“We have given the relevant agencies enough time to carry out the investigations. But in the meantime we are still having to endure the stench and the discomfort that comes along with it,” Agard said.
She said that although the relevant agencies have suggested relocation upstairs to the sixth floor, the workers do not feel that the move is in their best interest as environmental issues still remain at the statistical office.
“With the amount of employees affected we do not think that would be comfortable and to relocate us with the issue still there that does not make any sense. So we are asking, we are pleading, begging that the issue be solved. We do not want it to be masked, we do not want it to be a temporary solution, we want it to be solved,” she stressed.
Statistician Cecilia Harris said she collapsed last Monday as a result of an allergic reaction to sulphur dioxide gas.
I had to go to my doctor and he was saying it is because of the sulphuric smell that is coming from there that is the reason I fainted because I am highly allergic,” Harris told Barbados TODAY. Upon arriving to work at 7.50 this morning, a scent akin to raw sewage forced her to leave her office, she said.
“Right now, my eyes are puffy, my cheeks are puffy [and] I can hardly breathe. My voice is going and we need some solutions to this problem,” she told Barbados TODAY.
Harris also suggested that the office at the Barbados Statistical Service be relocated to another facility despite being told that the move was not available at this time.
“I personally would like to be relocated but they are saying that that is not an option for us. In that case there need to find an option for the staff because we cannot come out here every day and be under the tree because our productivity is going down the drain,” she said.
“They are talking about government workers not being productive. We would like to work but we cannot work under these conditions,” she said.
No official statement has been released about the building containing sulphur dioxide. The symptoms associated with the inhalation of the toxic gas were however similar to those workers have reported – burning sensations of the nostrils, throat and eyes, and coughing. Inhaling large quantities of sulphur dioxide can cause difficulty breathing.
Assistant Statistical Officer Annette Greaves suggested that no action was taken on the day the office was closed on Thursday for general cleaning, leading to the return of the two-year-old problem.
“I do not understand how this smell [that] was lingering for so long and you can’t find this smell and fix the problem . . . . I do not understand after all this time how they could have done all that in just one day and as you can see we are back out there today. So obviously, they have not found the problem,” Greaves said.
“I was barely in there for three minutes because as soon as I got out of the elevator the pungent smell was there. When I got into our office it was overbearing I had to actually run out of the office,” she told Barbados TODAY.
A BSS field officer, Stacia Hurdle, likened the smell on the fifth floor of the Baobab Tower this morning to a sewage plant inside the office.
“Monday mornings you get this scent that runs us out of the office,” she said.
Statistical Assistant Jeffery Squires said that he would like the problem to be rectified.
“Imagine that it is a workplace [and] you left home good and come to your place of work and that is what you have to experience. I would like it to stop. I would like them to find what the problem is and stop it,” he said.
Efforts to reach Acting Director of the Barbados Statistical Service Aubrey Browne were unsuccessful up to the time of publication.