Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and welcome to AMCHAM T&T’s 24th Annual HSSE Conference & Exhibition.
By now many of you have grown accustomed to our new rules: wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands, and social distancing. This is 2020 and our world has definitely changed. Welcome to our new reality.. our new normal.
I would so like to have been able to greet you all in person rather than not even being able to see you all at all.
But it is what it is. We’re having this Conference in some very difficult and uncertain times. Many have lost a job, a business or a loved one – we have each experienced a lot of pain and heartbreak. The future is uncertain. Even though we’re here, many of our minds are straying elsewhere. Speaking of which, I wonder if my nieces are logged on to their classes?
But how do we pick ourselves up from this state of perpetual despair? That is the question both individuals and nations are confronting these days. And that is the question we hope to answer over the coming week through a series of stimulating leadership sessions with some of the most influential and innovative leaders that are revolutionizing the field of HSSE today. That’s why we chose the theme RESILIENCE this year.
The essence of the human spirit is to survive and thrive. To build back better. We have a chance to do that here in T&T and the Caribbean. I listened to Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s inspirational speech over the weekend, a speech that spoke to the essence and strength of the Caribbean. A belief that not only can the Caribbean recover from the pandemic but that we can be global leaders in tech, manufacturing and services. And why not?
To get there we do have some consolidation to do. We do need to ensure that our people are able to manage mentally; that our plants and businesses can run safely; that our activities do not destroy the environment and that we are resilient to the very real physical and cyber threats that threaten us and our companies every day.
So, even though we are virtual this year, AMCHAM T&T has not dropped the ball when it comes to offering knowledge, sharing industry best-practice advice, and championing cutting edge theories, ideas and concepts that will transform how we look at business operations for a new normal.
So, the question is: how can we adapt to a new normal that is characterized by many as uncertain and highly disruptive?
Answering this question reminds me of the ancient proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is right now”. In other words, we must immediately plant the seeds for short, medium and long-term survival, TODAY, to achieve growth and success. But to do this, will require a strong measure of RESILIENCE in our efforts to move past this pandemic.
The business community is doing its part. Companies large and small are donating devices for online school; assisting with food care packages and supporting employees in this difficult time. For true resilience, we need a strong and enabled private sector. That’s why this year, I want to focus on a few specific issues rather than the traditional, more generic focus on HSSE.
What I would say to my private sector colleagues is that now is not the time to cut back on training or HSE. Remember to ask yourself whether the cost of not training outweighs the cost of having an untrained or undertrained employee in the role. I think we all know the answer. And as an absolute rule – we either do it safely or not at all.
Switching back to my other points, for businesses to be able to bounce back or at least start planning for a recovery, we require predictability. Therefore, it is our view that restrictions to curtail business and individual activity should be linked to specific triggers. This should be clearly communicated in advance and of course, based on science.
What we did in March when we knew little to nothing about the virus, is not completely applicable now. For example, if we, hypothetically, record five straight days of new cases of more than 100, severe lockdowns may be necessary, but if we are at fewer that say 40 a day for five days, a significant re-opening of the economy may be possible and of course, if we drop to fewer than 20 new cases a day, we can join the CARICOM bubble and fully re-open the economy. We should also have clear and reasonable criteria for the re-opening of borders.
Measures like mask wearing, social distancing and no mass gatherings will obviously have to remain in effect until a vaccine is developed and administered to the majority of the population. Individuals will have to take much of the responsibility for ensuring that cases don’t spread through their actions, but continued uncertainty and apparent arbitrary measures are counter-productive.
That’s on the health front. On the environment front, we are facing an imminent environmental disaster of gargantuan proportions in the form of the Nabarima. That floating offshore storage vessel needs to be offloaded. What happens to the oil after, can be worked out but we believe our Government should use every available avenue -including international pressure if necessary – to ensure that the Venezuelan Government and the Italian company ENI, offload the oil and stabalise the Nabarima to protect our environment.
Should a spill occur if the vessel were to sink, the environments of several countries including T&T, Guyana, Suriname and possibly some of the OECS countries would be in grave danger. The effects will be felt for decades and even maritime traffic would be affected. We simply cannot allow this to happen. Our Government must act and let the country – indeed the international community – know what is being done and by when to avert this potential environmental catastrophe.
The final point I will make, is one with which you all are very familiar as safety professionals and leaders. It’s a point about culture and collaboration. For our country to be resilient; to be able to build back stronger, we need a more inclusive, more collaborative culture.
We face many challenges, and many sacrifices will have to be made. The burden will have to be shared, for sure.
But who sacrifices what and why? What is our end goal? Where are we going and how will we know if we’re getting closer to that destination?
Some clear milestones and both short and long term objectives in the context of an overall plan are required. Simultaneously we need meaningful engagement with stakeholders. And stakeholders will sometimes have suggestions that are not apparently supportive of the measures being implemented.
It is said that in assessing the health of a relationship, do not be concerned when there is disagreement and even quarrelling. Rather be concerned when there is silence.
It is precisely because people care; precisely because we want the best outcome for our country that we offer opinions and suggestions for better outcomes.
What is needed now, therefore, is collaboration, dialogue and meaningful engagement. With that, we can build back better. Build back stronger. And together, we will create a better, brighter future for our country.
Before I close, I want to take this opportunity to thank our Title Sponsor, Atlantic for once more partnering with us on our HSSE Conference and Exhibition. Thank you to our Platinum Sponsors: the NGC Group of Companies, BP, Shell, BHP, and Pro Man. And our Gold Sponsor Nu-Iron.
I am grateful to our HSE Committee lead by Chairperson Ms Cindi Nandlal and assisted by her co-vice chairs Balchan Jadoonanan and Travis Gayah for all their hard work. Thank you to the CEO and Board of Directors of AMCHAM T&T for your input and hard work. But really, special thanks must go to Melissa Pierre, our Senior Trade and Policy Specialist, and everyone at the Secretariat for their hard work that they have been doing behind the scenes to coordinate our very first VIRTUAL HSSE Conference & Exhibition.
Thank you to all our long list of international and local speakers who will be here with us this week. We thank you for sharing with us this commitment towards promoting HSSE awareness and ensuring that HSSE policies don’t just make good business sense but can also save lives.
And to everyone who will be joining us this week: Thank you for your participation. Everything we do here at AMCHAM T&T is for our members and for the wider public which is why we are always eternally grateful for your support.
Finally, to all our 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 and I encourage each of you here to visit our VIRTUAL Exhibition. I guarantee you will enjoy it!
We know this year has been very challenging for many, but two things which stand out as truly remarkable for me during this period are:
- First, the leadership and humanitarian efforts that were shown by our members to protect their employees and the charitable goodwill that was extended to their communities, and by large, the nation during a moment of crisis. AND
- Second, the sheer resiliency that our companies and leaders showed that helped us to maintain business continuity, protect jobs and save lives during this pandemic.
Those are the seeds we need to keep planting if we hope to meet with success when we confront the next crisis. So please, let's continue to follow the health guidelines to flatten this curve resiliency for a bright and prosperous future for our families, our companies and our nation.
Be safe and have a great conference. Remember to use the chat and connect features of the platform to get the most from the experience. Thank You for your time and attention.