Lighting put Govt workers health at risk - report

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  • Global House

    Global House
    (Photo by Akil Simmons)

  • <B>Works and Engineering Minister Derrick Burgess</B>

    Works and Engineering Minister Derrick Burgess

List of complaints

“This new lighting is unacceptable for my area. It is dull and cast a ‘sickening’ blue-gray hue in our workspace. I am already experiencing headaches.”
David Wellman, manager of creative services, Department of Tourism May 14, 2009.
“Hard to focus on work — need additional lighting. Eyes are straining with the new lighting. General concern that bulbs are bright but some areas in the office are too dim — additional bulbs are needed.”
Jasmin Smith, Department of Tourism May 20, 2009
“I have received complaints about the lighting downstairs in the Creative Section, the staff are having problems working with the lighting. Would you be so kind and have the lighting changed back to the lighting that we had before.”
Joulanda Brown- Robinson, Administrative officer June 1, 2009
“I believe that in general the lighting is poor both in quality as well as lighting level … I am concerned about what impact this may have on the vision of our employees. In a related matter one of the newly installed LED bulbs installed in our outer office area in from of the Waste Management assistant’s office, is flashing on and off at a rate of about 180 per minute. It started late last week intermittently and is now pretty much flashing all the time.”
Martin Edelenbos, Solid Waste Manager, Works and Engineering June 9, 2009

Government put the health of its workers at risk by allowing inadequate and potentially dangerous lights to be installed at Global House, according to a leaked report.

Public Works Minister and Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess went against the advice of technical officers and gave the go-ahead to replace the building’s 1,300 fluorescent tube lights with LED fixtures, the report states. The move immediately prompted a series of complaints from angry employees who said the ‘cave effect’ of the blue-tint lighting gave them headaches.

The damning report by the Electrical Section of the Ministry of Works and Engineering states that the energy-saving lighting was a “clear violation” of health and safety regulations, as well as the building and electrical codes.

The April 2010 report, which The Royal Gazette has seen, highlighted a series of errors about the LED installation. It states that:

* no proper feasibility study was carried out despite the LED lights being “approximately ten times more expensive” than the former fluorescent lights;

* the work was carried out despite technical officers raising concerns in advance about poor lighting levels;

* the light bulbs installed were not certified with a recognised electrical testing laboratory;

* an electrical permit for the lights was not applied for from the Department of Planning.

“The installation of LED lamps at Global House is a clear violation of Bermuda’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, the Bermuda Building Code and Electrical Code,” the report states.

“It is therefore recommended that the Department of Planning immediately carry out an investigation of this installation and also contact Underwriters Laboratories in order to obtain their recommendations in regard to this matter.”

Director of Planning Trevor Leach has told The Royal Gazette he had no knowledge of the recommendation as he had not seen the report.

Electrical Technology Management (ETM) installed the new lighting in early 2009 at a cost of what is understood to be no more than $100,000. An e-mail sent to The Royal Gazette under the name ‘Holding You Accountable’ stated that ETM owner Leroy Robinson was a family member of Mr Burgess and the contract was awarded without issuing a formal tender.

The e-mail, which was also sent to senior civil servants, read: “I did not initially intend to take this route to expose Minister Burgess, however no resolve has appeared to have been taken and I am fed up with bad decisions being made on behalf of us taxpayers without punishment.”

The Ministry of Public Works yesterday told The Royal Gazette that the work was “sole-sourced” and ETM was the only company to provide a cost. A spokesman denied that Mr Robinson and Mr Burgess were related and said ETM had since replaced or improved the lights that staff were unhappy about.

Auditor General Heather Matthews, who also received the e-mail from the anonymous source, said she was taking the issue “very seriously” and vowed to give it “due consideration”.

The report states that the LEDs had “serious shortcomings” in terms of quality and level of light. The lights were also said to “ineffectively” illuminate Global House as there was not an even distribution of light.

The report also recognises “the high level of employee dissatisfaction” which could negatively affect a worker’s health, performance and job satisfaction. Staff from the Department of Tourism and Works and Engineering were among those who voiced concerns about the low-level ‘blue-ish’ lights creating glares.

Just two days after installation, additional lights had to be placed in some offices and Creative Services within the Department of Tourism changed back to its original lights.

The report explains that company representatives gave a presentation to the Ministry regarding a number of environmentally friendly initiatives in the spring of 2008. One of the ideas mentioned was the possible replacement of fluorescent lamps with LED tube lamps at Global House. The Ministry said it would be prepared to consider this with the proviso that “the final decision would be based on the results of a feasibility study for which ETM was given a contract to carry out”. The feasibility study was expected to compare the use of LED lamps to that of T8 fluorescent lamps.

The report states “this detailed study seemingly was never fully carried out” to address issues such as the illumination levels and the added expense.

Instead “an audit was performed which essentially predicted energy savings of 45 percent based on the replacement of 32 watt T8 fluorescent lamps with 18 watt LED lamps”.

After researching the proposed lighting, the Electrical Section said “it would be difficult to support” its instalment.

A demonstration of the LED lighting in the Engineering Department also highlighted potential problems as the lighting levels were “significantly less” than fluorescent lamps.

Despite those concerns being raised in advance, a decision was made to proceed with the new lighting in the spring of 2009. Workers voiced their complaints soon after. The report states the light fixtures at Global House “bear no markings whatsoever” which suggests they had not been certified by a recognised testing laboratory.

The report suggests the lights were modified products and therefore impossible to determine if they met safety regulations. It states: “Given that there are no markings whatsoever on the lamps nothing can therefore be discerned about the product which is in contravention to the NEC (the US National Electrical Code).”

The report went on to highlight the safety impact of “blue light hazard” which can cause retinal injury from radiation exposure. It also went into detail about LEDs creating a bright and directional lightening with most of the light concentrated in a relatively small area below the light fixture. It states “this creates what is referred to as a ‘cave effect’ which many find very uncomfortable”.

And in 2009 the Electrical Section carried out light level measurements to compare illumination levels at Global House with those in the Government Administration Building.

It was found that the illumination of Global House is 50 percent below the minimum average of 50ft candles (FC) specified in the occupational health and safety regulations.

The survey recommended more lights were needed to create a better distribution of light, but this would eliminate any energy savings.

A Public Works spokesman said: “The current cost of fuel in Bermuda and, subsequently, the cost of electricity, amount to a significant operating cost for the Government.

“In this regard, the Ministry of Works and Engineering determined that the replacement of fluorescent tubes in Government-owned buildings with energy efficient and environmentally friendly LED tubes, a trend taking place in many parts of the western world, would help to reduce the cost of electricity in these buildings.

“In mid-2008, approval was given for the award of a contract to [ETM] for work that included the replacement of 1,300 fluorescent tube lights and fixtures in Global House with the equivalent [LED] fixtures.

“The ETM submission included the provision of all labour to complete the work and proper disposal of all existing fluorescent tubes and ballast.

“The submission also stated that a thermal scan investigation would be completed for lighting fixtures in the building and that a report would be produced including recommendations if any defects were discovered.

“It was determined that this work should be expedited. Consequently, the services were sole-sourced: only ETM was invited to provide a cost for these services.”

He added: “Soon after the replacement exercise commenced, there were complaints from some occupants of Global House that the LED lighting was inadequate, that it did not offer sufficient light for them to carry out their work efficiently and that it was injurious to their health.

“There was also the observation that the LED lights used did not bear the listing organisation’s mark [typically UL] as required by the US National Electrical Code which has been adopted in Bermuda. ETM agreed to replace/improve the lighting in areas where Global House staff were unhappy.”

In relation to the report calling for an immediate investigation, a spokeswoman for the Department of Planning told The Royal Gazette: “The Director of Planning has not received a report entitled ‘Report on Global House LED Lighting System’.”

ETM’s website lists Global House as one of its previous projects, along with the Port Royal Golf Course and St George’s Police Station. Company owner Mr Robinson did not want to comment, saying it was “a Government matter”.

He did however say that he was not related to Mr Burgess, adding that the Minister “calls everyone cousin, it’s a Bermudian thing”.

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Published Oct 17, 2011 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 17, 2011 at 8:58 am)

Lighting put Govt workers health at risk - report

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