Some employers ordered their workers to attend work during the volcanic ashfall while the country was in lockdown and without proper personal protective gear, a new University of the West Indies survey has found.
But the overall findings of the survey suggest that Barbadians, for the most part, had heeded the correct guidance and protocols of the public and environmental health professionals in coping with the fallout, the researchers said.
Following the ashfall here from the explosive eruption of St Vincent’s La Soufrière volcano on April 9, the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill carried out two online surveys on its effect.
Professors Dwayne Devonish, Justin Robinson and Dr Glenda Gay conducted the research among residents in Barbados and St Vincent.
In the case of the Barbados survey, which was carried out among some 1,500 residents to examine their experiences with the effect of the volcanic eruption and subsequent ashfall between April 9 and 12, most residents reported that eye irritation (45 per cent) and throat irritation/sore throat (45).
When it came to skin irritation, some 31 per cent of respondents said this was a major problem, 30 per cent cited coughing and anxiety and nervousness were among the highest mental health complaints at 30 per cent.
“The effects were generally consistent across all parishes on the island. However, parishes with the most common health-related effects were St Lucy, St. Joseph, and St. Philip and St. George,” said the interviewers. “This reinforces the multidirectional flow of the ash where all segments (east and west especially) were equally affected by changes in wind direction of the plumes.”
But only 12 per cent of those surveyed called for mental health support and assistance, said the researchers, who pointed out that “it is important to note that there were some troubling concerns affecting Barbadians”.
The UWI research team said: “Some employers were requiring Barbadians to come into work without the provision of proper [personal protective equipment]. It was noted that ‘we want employers to be much more responsible and sensitive when it comes to the health and safety of their workers during this time and to ensure that their workplaces and physical environments are adequately readied to receive workers safely. We shouldn’t force workers back to work if those work environments are not fit or safe for workers and customers.”
They also noted that some Barbadians who were living alone were expressing an urgent need for assistance and support in dealing with the ash fall, especially older Barbadians or those who had physical disabilities or challenges.
They said: “Residents who owned micro and small businesses were frustrated that, just on the heels of a partial national shutdown, there was now a protracted closure of key businesses as a result of the ashfall. Concerns over loss of business and income were prominent among these commercial actors.”
Specific needs or requests for assistance included cleaning of vehicles (78 per cent), industrial cleaning outside of homes or businesses (78 per cent) cleaning of guttering (56 per cent) and industrial cleaning inside homes and buildings (26 per cent).
Following the ashfall, Barbados has embarked on a major island-wide ash cleanup, with authorities calling on residents to limit the use of water in the process.
The survey, which also examined the protective measures that Barbadians were taking in response to the ashfall, pointed out that the most common measures taken were staying indoors as much as possible (97 per cent), wearing protective clothing, goggles and dust mask (66 per cent), washing and cleaning off ash before heavy accumulation (54 per cent) and sealing buildings and homes (47 per cent).
The UWI researchers said Barbadians appeared to be generally knowledgeable about how to protect themselves in the face of the situation, with many of them recommending that people should have “extra food, water and medicine at all times, or what they referred to as “storm supplies”.
They also recommended residents avoid going onto roofs, to stay calm and listen to the officials and legitimate channels of communication for advice on how to deal with the crisis.