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Guest-Services Gathering Looks Beyond Tourism to Environment, Safety Issues

July 25, 2007 — Environmental protection and safety in the workplace were key topics at the USVI Hotel and Tourism Association’s general membership meeting Wednesday at Wyndham Sugar Bay.
Jose Carpena, regional director of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), discussed the importance of preventative safety methods in the workplace. “Every employer and employee in the nation recognizes that occupational safety and health add value to American business, workplaces and workers’ lives,” he said.
In terms of workplace safety, OSHA has jurisdiction over varied industries in the Virgin Islands, including construction, maritime, shipyard, marinas, general and federal agencies, and federal government employees. Traditionally, OSHA played the role of enforcer and gave warnings and citations for infractions such as health hazards in workplaces. Now, however, OSHA joins alliances and partnerships with employers to promote occupational safety.
“We don’t want to be seen as an adversary,” Carpena said. “That’s why we have an alliance with the USVI Hotel and Tourism Association (USVIHTA).”
A local version of OSHA, the V.I. Division of Occupational Safety and Health, oversees public employees. The University of the Virgin Islands provides consultation to the private sector, and employers do not run the risk of being cited if they use its services, Carpena said.
Based on four years of inspections in the Virgin Islands, Carpena discussed several reports in relation to industries under OSHA’s jurisdiction. He cited lack of communication as one of the biggest reason for hazards. Some of the hazards include falls and electrical and chemical dangers, with the latter the highest.
Local-emphasis programs (LEP) focus “limited resources” on the places most in need, Carpena said. With LEP, OSHA inspectors are allowed to stop and inspect sites if they see a hazard. In the territory, LEP targets mostly falls and hotel and marina safety. The programs have been well received by the V.I. hotel industry, Carpena said.
With the growing number of construction sites in the Virgin Islands, especially on St John, OSHA pays an important role in safety. Among the top 10 construction hazards are lack of ground-fault protection, problems with scaffolding, lack of electrical grounding and inadequate eye and face protection.
Currently OSHA has local strategic partnerships with Triangle Construction Maintenance Construction, the Manhattan Construction Bahamas Limited-USVI and Cliff Creek Builders. The companies report successes after hours of training employees. OSHA also has an alliance with the USVIHTA since late 2006.
Something as simple as changing the way hotel rooms are cleaned could have a major impact on energy conservation, said Deirdre P. Shurland, director of the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST). Global warming and climate change is an issue that will not go away, she told the audience, urging people to take steps toward protecting the environment.
“Coral reefs are very important tourism assets, and the U.S. Virgin Islands has the best,” Shurland said. Based on research, she said, the Caribbean is the number one tourism-dependent region in the world, and the territory is a “big performer.”
As a U.S. territory, the Virgin Islands has “far more” capacity than other Caribbean countries to be more environmentally aware because of available technological resources.
The issue that is most important, Shurland said, is training employees effectively. “It is very important to take sustainable actions to train staff,” she said. “They are the ones to find problems and even come up with solutions.”
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