Opening speech at the Guyana Safety Forum by Dr Thackwary Driver, CEO Energy Chamber
6th December 2018
Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Guyana


Good morning.

As I am sure that all of us in this room are all too aware, one of the major barriers facing small contractors and service companies wanting to do business with international oil and gas companies is meeting the high safety, health and environmental standards that they demand from all their suppliers. 

If a contractor or service company does not meet the operator’s health, safety and environmental (HSE) requirements they will not even be able to bid for work.   Meeting these HSE requirements will not necessarily mean you will win business – you must also meet all the technical requirements and be competitive on price – but if you do not meet them you will not even have a chance to be considered. 

International operators are not going to lower their standards to accommodate local contractors.  And nor should they.  As leaders in the industry we have an obligation to make sure that every single one of the people who comes to work on any of our facilities goes home to their families in one piece at the end of each day.  If we can not do the job safely, we must not do it at all.

Meeting the high safety standards of operating companies can be a challenge in countries with new hydrocarbon industries, such as Guyana.  This is especially the case if the country does not have an existing well developed national legislative framework and a history of a strong safety culture in other sectors. Note the word “and”; having good legislation is useless if it is not implemented.

For most local companies in Guyana, meeting the high standards of international operator companies will involve a serious step change.  And it is a big step. 

Based on my many years of involvement in the area in Trinidad & Tobago, I believe that there are two keys things that will be needed to help companies make this step to meet high safety standards.

Firstly, Guyana will need to develop a cadre of well-trained, seasoned and certified Guyanese HSE professionals – who will discharge their responsibilities ethically and professionally.

Secondly, the leaders of the local private-sector will have to internalise a safety culture and understand that you cannot buy certification and you cannot buy safety.  If your objective is just to meet the requirements set by operators, you will fail.  If your objective is to become a leader in safety and build a robust safety culture in your company, then you will be able to meet the requirements.  Meeting the requirements is a measure, not an objective.

I will use our experiences in Trinidad & Tobago to highlight why I think that these two ideas are so important.

When Trinidad & Tobago was undergoing the rapid expansion of our gas industry in the early 2000s, we had a very weak legislative framework for safety.  However, because of the long history of activity in the energy sector we did have a reasonably well-developed safety culture within the energy sector – not stellar, but not entirely absent.   In the rest of the economy, however, the safety culture was very poor.

The issue that we faced at that time was not so much an inability to meet the international operator’s requirements, but rather that different international operators had different HSE pre-qualification requirements.  This became a major complaint amongst local contractors.  Many local contractors felt that the system was stacked against them and it was very difficult to prove that they met all the different requirements, so they were effectively excluded from bidding for work.  Even if they could show they met the requirements, it often took an inordinate time for the operator HSE departments to get around to auditing them to include them on bid lists.

Against this background, the Energy Chamber implemented the Safe to Work initiative with the dual objective of helping local energy service companies meet international oil, gas and petrochemical operator company HSE requirements and at the same time raising the overall levels of contractor safety management in the country. 

Under the STOW system, operator companies have all agreed that they will only do business with STOW certified companies operating in the Trinidad & Tobago energy services market, for high risk activities. We now have over six hundred service companies and contactors who have been certified against the STOW pre-qualification requirements and the system is well entrenched in Trinidad & Tobago’s energy sector. 

You will hear more about the STOW system in the final session this afternoon.

When we set out to develop the STOW programme one of the things we wanted to make sure we did was develop a cadre of local HSE professionals as assessors and consultants.  We wanted to make sure that we did not have to continuously rely on external expertise.  We pulled the original cadre of STOW Assessors from amongst existing HSE professionals but then made sure that they did significant additional training and continuous education and improvement. 

One of the most important elements of being a STOW Assessor is signing up to a strictly enforced code of conduct and we have taken stiff action against any assessor found to be in breach of the code.  There are a number of STOW assessors here in the room today and I am sure that they will confirm how seriously we take the Code of Conduct.  Whenever they go to do an assessment they have to go through the Code of Conduct with the company before they begin their work. Both have to sign-off on a form stating that this has been done.  This not only informs the company of how the assessor is supposed to act, but also continuously reminds assessors of their obligations. 

One of the things that behavioural science has taught us is that constantly reminding yourself of your ethical code is important to keeping yourself honest, rather than just assuming that you are a good person and therefore that everything you do must automatically be right.  

Having this group of well qualified, experienced and ethical local HSE professionals has been vital to the success of STOW.  I would advise any new hydrocarbon territory to plan ahead very carefully about how it is going to build this strong cadre of HSE professionals.  Even with the well-developed system that we have in Trinidad & Tobago we have come across unscrupulous individuals who claim to be experienced HSE professionals and who fleece small contractors, when in fact they have nothing to offer other than a fancy business card. 

I advise everybody in Guyana to be aware of this possibility and be very cautious about how you engage consultants.  Checking certifications and checking references is not difficult in this day and age and you can avoid a lot of headache (and unnecessary expense) by always checking first.

Ethics is very, very important.  Without ethical professionals you will not be able to build a strong safety culture.  People have to be able to trust that when an assessor goes out to do an assessment, they are truthful and discharge their responsibilities with due diligence and due care and attention.  This is absolutely vital and the credibility of an entire certification system can be undermined by a few individuals acting unethically. 

One of the easy tests you can apply is if a consultant promises you that they can get your certified.  Any professional consultant knows that they can help your company become certified and the can provide evidence of companies that they have helped before. But no consultant can guarantee certification. This is because safety can only be driven by the leadership of a company.  Without that leadership commitment no small contractor will ever meet the HSE requirements of an international oil and gas company.  

We have seen this repeatedly in the STOW process in Trinidad & Tobago.  An absence of safety leadership means that the company simply will not be able to successfully implement a safety management system.  Of course, they can buy some big files full of paper and claim that this is their management system, but as soon as an auditor turns up and begins to ask for evidence that the system is implemented the gaps will become very apparent.  There are no shortcuts on the safety journey. So my message to Guyanese companies who want to get involved in the energy industry and meet the international operators requirements is to start out on that journey now.

The journey to safety is tough.  Local companies are going to have to invest significant time and effort in meeting the international standards.  The Government of Guyana and their international partners need to find ways of helping local companies along that journey, but in the end it is the company leadership who will have to make the commitment.  If companies see safety as just a cost, rather than an investment, they are unlikely to succeed.  But the experience that we have had in Trinidad & Tobago is that, if companies invest in safety, they will see returns not just in terms of safety performance but to overall efficiency and financial performance.

This safety journey also has positive implications for the wider economy.  As I stated before, we have six hundred service companies and contractors who have been STOW certified.  Many of the companies who have been STOW certified are not working only in the energy sector. Many also work in civil construction.  We have STOW certified companies in the IT sector – they get STOW certification because they also sell IT services to offshore facilities. We even have car sales companies who are STOW certified. 

STOW has therefore spilled over from the energy sector into the rest of the economy.  The safety culture in the rest of the Trinidad & Tobago economy still leaves a lot of be desired, but it has certainly improved significantly since the 1990s.  You are unlikely to see a construction worker without safety boots and a hard hat.

The legal framework in Trinidad & Tobago has also improved significantly, with the passage of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  One of the things that I am proud to say is that it was the energy industry, through the Energy Chamber, who lobbied the Government hard to get that legislation implemented.  We understood that good regulation could help industry meet its objectives.  I actually spent many hours with the Minister of Labour going through the details of the Bill along with a trade union leader – and had the strange experience that it was frequently the trade unionist and I who were arguing a point jointly with a reluctant Minister.

Implementation of Trinidad & Tobago’s legislation is still a work in progress.  We need significantly increased institutional capacity in the OSH Agency and many of the accompanying regulations also need to be updated and amended, but the energy sector provides Trinidad & Tobago with a lot of world-class expertise and knowledge which has been harnessed, at least to an extent, to build capacity. 

That knowledge and experience in Trinidad & Tobago is also available to you here in Guyana, within the framework of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy.  The Energy Chamber is fully committed to helping you build the necessary cadre of HSE professionals and the supporting systems that you need to embark on your safety journey.  

So let me close by reiterating my two key messages:

Firstly, if Guyana is to build genuine local content you need to develop a cadre of well-trained, seasoned and certified Guyanese HSE professionals – who will discharge their responsibilities ethically and professionally.

Secondly, the leaders of the local private-sector will have to internalise a safety culture and understand that they cannot buy certification and they cannot buy safety.  If your objective is just to meet the requirements set by operators, you will fail.  If your objective is to become a leader in safety and build a robust safety culture in your company, then you will be able to meet the requirements.