Following the collapse of a scaffold at the construction site of Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC in Garapan that injured three people, Rep. Edwin Propst (Ind-Saipan) is calling for an oversight to investigate, and to make sure that similar accidents would be avoided in the future.
Speaking at yesterday’s session, Propst, who is the minority leader, called on the House Committee on Gaming, particularly committee chair Rep. Ralph Yumul (R-Saipan), to initiate the investigation.
“I asked you and my colleagues that we look into this and conduct our own inquiry into this accident,” Propst said. “The reason why is that I have received some confidential messages and calls from those who work [at] the construction site on what happened.”
Propst said the workers may be wearing harnesses that are meant to protect them in case of a fall or collapse, but he questioned the absence of a line for them.
“My question is, why aren’t they having a line for the harness? What is the purpose of wearing something if you’re not cabled in. It makes no sense. And this is not just one person I heard this from,” he added.
Propst said the accidents that have already happened at the site are legitimate concerns, and that the House Gaming Committee should be able to call the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as the safety officials, for questioning.
“How do we ensure moving forward that this will never happen again?” Propst asked. “I believe we have the power to do something about this and to look into it. At least have us work together as a committee to investigate.”
“I do share the minority leader’s concern,” Rep. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) said.
The House vice speaker said that he did go to the construction site, along with Rep. Roman Benavente (R-Saipan), as soon as they learned of the accident.
Deleon Guerrero questioned the absence of quality control and assurance for the safety of workers and of the people on site.
“Where is the quality control, quality assurance for the safety of the workers and the safety of the people? We practically drove in. There’s no signs, there are no barricades,” he said.
“We sat there for 10-15 minutes trying to get information about the incident, and then that’s when the swarm of safety officers started telling us “Sir, you cannot be in there without the safety hat, without the vest,’ and all those things that would have prevented this accident.”
Deleon Guerrero echoed Propst’s statement that several accidents have already happened.
“When an accident occurs, we are supposed to implement measures to prevent further accidents, and yet it continues. Definitely, I share with the minority leader, we got to be very vigilant on this.”
House legal counsel John Cool argued that, because of the islands’ distance from the nearest OSHA office, there is almost a necessity for the CNMI set up its own OSHA enforcement system.
“I checked with OSHA and 37 other states and territories have approved state plans where they locally minister, supervise. The ones in the [United] States that don’t have approved OSHA programs are usually the smaller states, like us. But because of our distance from our nearest OSHA office, it almost requires us to set up our own OSHA enforcement system here,” Cool said.
The legal counsel said the CNMI can adopt a Commonwealth OSHA Enforcement Program and have it approved by OSHA so that people can be hired to do inspections.
“We have training people but we don’t have inspection people,” Cool added. “We need people to inspect not only this job site; some of the smaller job sites are much more dangerous. There’s horrendous injuries at other job sites that we don’t even hear about.”