Energy specialist: “You have to believe in safety.” SHTA, Chamber, and EB Energy host safety conference

POSTED: 10/4/13 1:52 PM

St. Maarten – In collaboration with the St. Maarten Hotel and Hospitality Association (SHTA) and the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce (SMCC), oil company GB Energy – which markets and distributes the Texaco brand – hosted a conference on how to implement occupational health, safety, and environmental management systems yesterday at the Belair Community Center. The conference featured speakers from the local Chamber of Commerce, public sector, and employees from GB Energy. The host for the event was Claret Connor, the executive director of the SMCC. “We thought it would be more effective to include the SHTA since their members would most likely benefit from it,” Connor said. Both the minister of labor and the minister of economic affairs could not attend because they are currently away.

Vice President of the SMCC Hubert Pantophlet spoke on behalf of the chamber. “Today is an important day because of the topic,” he said and was quite pleased that “many companies are well represented” among the attendees at the community center. “It is an area concerned with protecting the health and safety of workers,” he said, but the issue is also broader than that, since it includes protecting the consumer as well, he pointed out.

“The roles of occupational health professionals vary regionally,” he said, but the overall aims are the same. He explained that unsafe work environments or those without adequate safety measures and standards actually lead to increased costs for the employer, due to work related injuries, accidents, and illness, all the while lowering productivity. He gave a concrete economic example, citing statistics that show that, on average, in Latin America unsafe work environments cost the economy as much 10% of its GDP, whereas in the EU, where health and safety standards are comparatively much higher, costs are significantly lower at an average of 2.6% of overall GDP.

Pantophlet concluded that “occupational safety and health should be a shared responsibility between the private sector and government.”

Selby Philip was the spokesman for the St. Maarten government at the conference. He is a policy advisor at the department of labor and discussed its role in setting policy and health and safety standards in the workplace. “Government’s role is to set and monitor the minimum standards,” he said, that protect the weaker party, which is usually the workers. “Government sets minimum standards through legislation.”

He explained that the Kingdom of the Netherlands is bound by international treaties that also set guidelines and norms for safety in the workplace, but because St. Maarten is not a sovereign state, it mostly complies with the treaties as a matter of policy. The most notable international treaty on occupational safety is the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) convention of 1955 which outlines both the responsibilities of employers and workers.

According to available records, “most accidents are slips and falls,” Philip said, “injuring the hands at the workplace.” Echoing what Pantophlet said earlier, he mentioned the direct and indirect costs of workplace safety, saying that a company for every $1 of direct loss due to a work place accident, it may face $4 in indirect losses due to declining productivity, increased wages for overtime, etc.

The future plans at the Department of Labor, Philips said, are to raise workplace safety awareness with a first aid kit and hard hat campaign; stimulate more reporting of incidents; improve existing standards through legislation and data collection, and improving the method of administrative fines.

Philip highlighted the current challenge facing the department when it comes to issuing fines. The department technically does not have the right to do so. That belongs to the prosecutor’s office and is in need of legislative reform because they have heavy criminal cases to investigate and simply don’t have the time and resources to look into every safety infraction.

Julian Rojas was the first presenter for EB Energy. He is the company’s Health, Safety, Security, and Environment Manager for the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and St. Maarten. “Stop thinking on minor details,” he declared to the crowd. “You should be thinking differently, from the point of view of the manager.” He explained that ensuring safety standards goes beyond merely having fire extinguishers present or hard hats on a job site. “They only see that part.”

“Smart, safe systems” lead to less injury, Rojas said. He meant that managing safety at a workplace goes beyond only equipment, but is comprehensive and that a business’s routines and systems need to be built around safety. “They have already changed,” he said of safety management systems, “start changing your thinking. Any step toward more sustainability and you will be ahead,” he stated.

“It’s not a secret that we have a lot of hazards,” Rojas said of the oil industry. Our standards are so high that they are used as a model around the world.”

There are guidelines that currently exist to guide managers, he explained, of the many ISO standards that are available online that can assist people in establishing safety principles for their business or place of work.

“You have to believe in safety,” Fabio Urena said. He is a safety specialist for EB Energy in the Dominican Republic and St. Maarten.  “If you’re not committed, it’s not going to be working. It’s just words.” A company’s policy “should be clear as possible,” he emphasized.

“An accident free workplace is achievable, and sustainable,” he went on. “Everyone in the company has to get involved. It starts with a leader, and that leader must be carefully selected.”

The impression overall at the conference, especially from the EB Energy employees, is that safety in the workplace is a mindset that management needs to adopt; it is not merely abstract guidelines and the act stocking the necessary safety equipment. EB Energy is a successful company in the oil and energy industry with a good track record in employee safety, and whose advice is based on that success.

EB Energy was later presented with a certificate of membership from the SHTA. The conference attendees and guest speakers were then thanked by Tamara Leonard, president of the SMCC.

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