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 of 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. This is a particular challenge in countries with new hydrocarbon industries, such as Guyana, especially if they do not have an existing, well-developed, national legislative framework and a history of a strong safety culture. Operators are not going to lower their standards to accommodate local contractors. And nor should they — we all want people to be safe and healthy, and the environment to be protected.
Meeting operators’ HSE requirements can also be an issue in countries with welldeveloped industries, especially when different operators have slightly different requirements. A lot of countries and territories have attempted to introduce uniform pre-qualification requirements so that contractors and service companies only have one standard to meet, instead of multiple standards for each individual operator. While a lot of countries have tried to do this, only a few have succeeded. I am very proud to say that Trinidad and Tobago is one country that has managed to succeed.
When Trinidad and Tobago was undergoing the rapid expansion of our gas industry in the early 2000s, the issue of different HSE pre-qualification requirements being used by different operators became a major complaint from local contractors. Many local contractors felt that the system was stacked against them and it was very difficult to prove that they met the requirements, so they were effectively excluded from bidding for work. Even if they could show they met the requirements, it often took an inordinate amount of time for the operator HSE departments to get around to auditing them to include them on bid lists.
Against this background, the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago (Energy Chamber) implemented the Safe to Work (STOW) 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 and Tobago energy services market for high-risk activities. We now have over 600 service companies and contractors that have been certified against the STOW pre-qualification requirements and the system is well entrenched in Trinidad and Tobago’s energy sector.
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 to ensure 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.
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 welldeveloped system that we have in Trinidad and 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.
This is something that contractors in Guyana need to be aware of as they strive to meet the HSE requirements of Exxon and other operators. Guyanese companies should be careful of any consultant who promises he or she can deliver compliance with an operator’s HSE requirements. Good consultants can help but safety has to be driven by the company leadership. Without that leadership commitment, no small contractor will ever meet the HSE requirements of an international oil and gas company.