Tiny service company leads by example

In 1985, 30-year-old Ahamad Ali quit his job as a leak sealing technician with Furmanite in the United States, today one of the world’s largest plant and pipeline maintenance companies, and returned to Trinidad as a franchisee.

There was one methanol plant in Trinidad in those days — the Government-owned Trinidad and Tobago Methanol Company — with an annual capacity of 450,000 tonnes.

By 1996, a second plant had come onstream in partnership with Ferrostaal/Helm, a German consortium with a 31 percent stake. That was the year Sally Roopan, then 20, started working at Specialised Maintenance Services as Ali’s secretary.

Managing Director of Specialised Maintenance Services Ahamad Ali.  Photo by Mark Gellineau

Managing Director of Specialised Maintenance Services Ahamad Ali. Photo by Mark Gellineau

Downstream activity was picking up. Everybody knew the plants were coming.

Ali was getting ready for them. It meant his employees had to be good at their jobs.

But to Ali it also meant safety, which is why he had Furmanite people come from the States to train and certify his people.

If SMS failed, or lost its license, there was no backup plan. And that made the idea of a major accident involving an employee or a client all the more haunting.

Naresh Roopan, Sally’s brother-in-law, also works here. As safety supervisor, he is Ali’s second-in-command. He’s in charge of a small operation owned by a man who has insisted on a safety-first work ethic and spent a good deal of money to make it a reality.

In March, with just six employees, five of them trained in industrial leak repairs on pipelines and vessels, Specialised Maintenance Services had a historic achievement: a perfect score for workplace safety and health.

A yellow hard hat sits on Ali’s desk next to a greyish-black binder, the back of his chair partially hiding a photo of him receiving the award from Energy Chamber CEO Dax Driver.

Yet there is nothing to obscure the magnitude of the firm’s achievement or the message it sends to companies large and small across the sector.

Evaluated against rigorous Safe To Work (STOW) standards mandated by the Chamber for all operators, SMS is only the second company to score 100 percent in a STOW audit since the adoption of universal safety protocols in 2005.

The company scored 100 percent on each of the 11 elements of the STOW audit, according to the final report by Francine Carvalho-Moodoo, a senior independent safety assessor.

The safety rubric, the report shows, included health, safety, security and environment (HSSE) management, leadership and accountability, legal requirements and document control, risk and change management, incident reporting and investigation, and crisis and emergency management.

“We have a system where we track everything that needs to be corrected in this company, and it’s not a just paper system,” says Sherman Ragbir, owner of Occupational Safety, Health & Environmental Services Limited and the consultant Ali hired to help implement safety standards at SMS.

In two years, Ali expects SMS will get more safety commendations when a STOW officer confirms a meeting with his secretary to start the company’s next assessment.

“I remember when Sally got married; I was at the wedding at her parents’ house in Marabella. All my children know her. We are so small, we like family here,” says Ali. “I can’t put them in harm’s way for me to gain.”