22nd Annual Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) Conference & Exhibition
President's Opening Remarks
Good Morning Ladies and gentlemen.
Today as we open our 22nd Annual Health, Safety, Security and Environment Conference and Exhibition, we are filled with a sense of pride as we remember the conference’s humble beginnings. For 22 years, the Secretariat has worked closely with the H.S.E Committee to build an expanded conference agenda that is cutting-edge and relevant to industry professions. This event has grown beyond our initial expectations, and we are proud to say that this is the largest H.S.S.E Conference and Exhibition in the region.
While we celebrate our accomplishments, we are cognizant of the sobering reality that much more needs to be done in making H.S.E best practice a part of the fabric of our nation. AMCHAM T&T holds steadfast to the philosophy that good H.S.S.E policies make good business sense. Today, however, I move past the profit margins and business indicators to what truly matters; good H.S.S.E practices and policies save lives. This has been illustrated in the past four months as Trinidad and Tobago has been jolted out of a sense of complacency and is forced to consider the “what ifs”.
On Tuesday 21st August, Trinidad and Tobago was rocked by a massive earthquake that lasted for almost one minute, and measured 6.8 on the Richter scale. Our country was stunned and shaken. We had never experienced an earthquake of such magnitude, and there were numerous reports of damage to infrastructure. Trinis checked in with their loved ones, thanked their respective deities for life, and remarked how lucky we were that God is a Trini. Some lamented about what they thought was a lack of responsiveness by emergency agencies and others continued to post their experiences on social media. Today I ask, how many of us have begun to proactively prepare for a serious geophysical event?
Last weekend the country experienced adverse weather conditions which resulted in catastrophic flooding in east and central Trinidad.
Jaine Mendes-Franco writes: The rains that enveloped Trinidad and Tobago on October 19, 2018 started gently, but their natural softness belied their ferocity. They were persistent, relentless and they got heavier with time. Time, turned out to be the thing that turned bad weather from the energetic Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) into a national disaster.
Persons who experienced the flooding first-hand have said that this is the worst they have ever seen. Flood waters ravaged homes and caused widespread destruction catching many communities off guard. Major transport arteries such as the Uriah Butler Highway were impassable as flood waters submerged the southbound lane limiting movement in and out of central and south Trinidad. We have all seen the photos in the newspaper and posts on social media of homes and cars submerged in water while families were forced to seek refuge on roofs or balconies awaiting rescue.
I was heartened to see the immediate response by heroic women and men, as well as emergency services and the business community, as they rallied together to help those in need. A true testament that we are a resilient and generous people. AMCHAM T&T as part of the Joint Chambers is collecting contributions to provide flood relief to victims. Today and tomorrow, if you are donating cash, you can do so in the boxes at the Secretariat. If you have other items, we do have drop-off points that you can send them to. At moments like these, I recall the words of American Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Within us lies patriots' hearts and an unshakeable will. Here persons forget their grievances, political affiliations, and so-called economic divisions and helped their neighbours, strangers, friends, and even their enemies.
At this very moment there are scores of people trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives.
I stand here in a room of business leaders and industry professionals, and I ask:
“What have we learned from these two incidents?”, and more importantly
“How are we going to take action?”
Earlier this month, the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction released a report stating that “economic losses caused by climate-related and geo-physical disasters have soared over the past two decades.” The report which evaluated total disaster-related economic losses and fatalities between 1998 and 2017 found that climate-related and geophysical disasters left approximately 4.4 billion injured, homeless, displaced or in need of emergency assistance. Moreover, during this period disaster-hit countries experienced direct economic losses valued at US$ 2,908 billion, but the true economic impact of these incidents is yet to be determined.
If we look beyond the economics – we are not prepared for a full-scale disaster in Trinidad and Tobago. According to the World Disaster Report, there is “an urgent need to move from fatalism to prevention, from response to preparation, from mobilizing resources after the fact to identifying and reducing risk before the fact.”
We must examine where we have fallen short of our commitments to do better for ourselves, our communities, and our country. We have to move beyond talking, to taking clear, determined, and decisive action toward preparing our businesses and our communities for unforeseen circumstances. At the Conference, we have a presentation from Dr. Ivan Pupulidy who would look at Community Preparation- Community Response: and how we can build resilience in a complex world. Yesterday, Ivan toured some of the flood-affected areas and we are looking forward to hearing his observations. This year, like years in the past, we have a very exciting agenda- we have sessions on the Environment, Industrial Relations, and H.S.E and Safety Leadership
As despair continues to pervade the psyche of those who have suffered losses, and we are grateful there are no reported casualties, it is not just physical health we need to worry about. The psychological toll on adults who are forced to be strong for their families and children who are trying to process the hows and the whys of losing their possessions is a lot to bear. Persons who experience such tragedy typically experience fear, anxiety, sadness or shock. Sometimes, these feelings fade as individuals move on and re-build. Yet, for some these symptoms will continue for weeks or months, turning into more serious psychological issues.
Safety and Security
We equip our homes with steel doors and security cameras to safeguard against intruders coming in, but, how many of us have a plan for getting get out of your house or businesses in case of an emergency? In his most recent book, The Emperor Has No Hard Hat, feature speaker Alan Quilley states that safety excellence isn’t merely avoiding injury or illness, but it is about performance at work or play without taking unnecessary risks. Are we exposing our employees, families, and communities to unnecessary risks?
We can no longer ignore the effect that human activities have on the environment. The indiscriminate disposal of garbage by citizens is inexcusable. Refrigerators, tyres, car parts, and others items are being dumped in our water courses, clogging drains and damaging our marine life. Litter fills our streets after football matches, parties, or street festivals. We must create a culture of cleanliness, love for the environment, and personal accountability. Our afternoon sessions would look at waste management- we would discuss the controversial beverage container Bill and the Styrofoam ban, and seek to forge a common ground where we each would have a true appreciation for each perspective and quite possibly agree on a way forward.
We believe that the impact of culture is important. Moreover, we have included it in this year’s conference theme: Technology. Culture. Results.
Culture is not just about a focus on behaviour and attitudes. Proactive and consistent management of health and safety performance requires great leadership. Leaders must have the foresight and tenacity to continually build a strong health and safety culture that will positively influence everyone.
As a business chamber, it is important that we promote business going beyond environmental compliance. Today, I am proud to announce that our H.S.E Committee authored an environmental charter that each of our member company’s CEOs would sign – members who could not attend today, signed the charter before. This charter is one of the ways that AMCHAM T&T is seeking to improve environmental sustainability and encourage other responsible, forward-thinking organizations to do the same.
This conference is another way for AMCHAM T&T to assist in creating a business community and country that is focused on excellence in health, safety and security, and the environment.
Before I close I would like to thank our title sponsor Atlantic who continues to partner with us for this important conference. Our platinum sponsors bpTT, The National Gas Company of Trinidad & Tobago, Yara, Price WaterHouse Coopers, Shell, and BHP. Our Gold sponsor Nu-Iron, Silver sponsor Citibank and airline sponsor United. To the HSE Committee led by Michelle Brooker, and ably assisted by two vice chairs- Cindi Nandlal and Ronald Harripersad thank you for your unwavering commitment.
The exhibitors who have taken the time to share their products, services and expertise we thank you for being a part of this year’s exhibition.