Thank you for joining us this morning, on what is the 25th anniversary of AMCHAM T&T’s annual HSSE conference. Twenty-five years is a long time to be doing anything in today’s world where change happens so quickly. It requires that organizations and more importantly the people who are the lifeblood of organizations demonstrate a willingness to learn, evolve and thrive in an ever-changing environment. I dare say that without these qualities, it is near impossible to stand the test of time.
Today we are here to celebrate the achievements we’ve made in health, safety, security, and the environment over the last quarter-century, but also to look ahead to what we must do to catalyse even greater progress over the next twenty-five years.
It is quite likely that twenty-five years from now we will look back and speak on the events of the past year as one of the greatest challenges we have faced as a nation and a global community. COVID-19 has killed more than four million people around the world. Locally, we too have lost many people to the virus and our condolences go out to their families, friends, and co-workers.
Over 48,000 persons have recovered, so today I ask that we not only take a moment to remember the lives of those we’ve lost but also to celebrate those who have recovered and, in some cases, may still need support.
COVID-19 has caused too much pain and suffering, and we are not out of the woods as yet. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t made progress. The position we find ourselves in today has been largely dependent on our commitment to trusting and leading with the available data and science. It’s the same data and science that we trusted to create all the modern conveniences we now enjoy, and the science that created the COVID-19 vaccines.
I want to say a special thank you to the honourable Terrence Deyalsingh, Minister of Health, and the Government for their efforts in securing and making accessible to the population several WHO approved vaccines for use locally. These should not be taken for granted given the continued calls for vaccine equity around the world.
We at Amcham are pleased to lead in this space with all of the members of our Board of Directors and all of the employees of our Secretariat being fully vaccinated. Further we continue to play our part in this regard through our partnership with the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce where we are currently assisting the Ministry of Health in the uploading of vaccination data forms from across the country and of course you would recall that during the months of July to September, we also jointly ran the mass vaccination site at the National Academy for the Performing Arts. This effort would have contributed in seeing us increase the number of vaccinated persons in our country which now stands at 43%. However, this is still not sufficient and we join the Minister in the continued call for citizens, young and old, to get vaccinated. Noting Ministers that concerted steps may need to be taken to increase vaccination levels - as individuals, across industries, within the private sector and within the public sector if we are to secure a bright and prosperous future for Trinidad & Tobago.
In this regard, we were encouraged to see the reopening of many businesses and generation of employment again through the creation of the Safe Zones. Decisions such as these which follow the science, incentivize vaccination and restore a sense of normalcy again are positive steps. More recently, we noted the announcement to have all children, vaccinated and unvaccinated in Forms 4-6, return to school as of today. While we are pleased to see children return to schools, we certainly hope that with the levels of vaccination among students and teachers, the requisite measures and safety protocols will be implemented and adhered to, so that we will not see in the coming weeks a surge in the number of positive cases and deaths. It is in no one’s interests – businesses’ nor the general population’s - to have us go through further lockdowns and suffer further personal loss.
Amcham will continue to play its part in bringing information to the fore and through our membership to support efforts to see an end to this pandemic.
25 years of Progress
I dare say the possibility of that bright future is why we are all tuned in this morning, to learn about best practices and collectively raise further awareness on some of the key topics in HSSE. Everyone on this live stream today recognizes that all growth is rooted in a willingness to learn and evolve; because without doing those two things, it is impossible to adapt and to thrive in any environment.
Undoubtedly, we have made significant progress in the field of HSSE over the last two decades. When AMCHAM founded its safety, health, and environment committee in 1996 to advocate for change and to provide proactive solutions while building best practices in health and safety across industries, many of the laws and standards in place today did not yet exist.
The Environmental Management Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act were introduced in 2000 and 2004 respectively, and as a country we have made several updates to the Petroleum Act to ensure better protection for our marine interests over time.
Today, we can clearly see the fruit of our labour and the trickle-down effect of some of these early efforts and advocacy. Advocacy which was cemented in the knowledge that HSSE investment and advancement wasn’t just a nice-to-do, it made good business sense and would further strengthen our economy.
The success of this conference underscores that we have always known this. It is demonstrated by our focused commitment across the public and private sector to learning, adopting, and evolving our HSSE practices to what it is now, ranked among the best in the Caribbean region. We want to thrive, and it’s clear that we are willing to do the work to get there!
The progress we have made, however, is being challenged by global trends including raising awareness about climate change and its impact on small island states like ours; the growing demand for cleaner energy sources, and the consistent push being made by civil society for governments and large organizations to reduce their impact on the environment.
So there is still so much work to do. I am a firm believer that people and by extension organizations should live in the future world they wish to create. Simply put, it means doing what you can from where you are.
While there are things that only governments and or businesses can do, at the end of the day, each of us has a responsibility to ourselves, to the next generation, and to our country to push the envelope and make improvements. Whatever we think we can, or we can’t do and achieve, is what will manifest in our external environment.
Looking to the Future
At the macro level, it is clear some industries are further along than others. As an energy sector veteran, I can personally attest to the reality that our strong HSSE culture continues to make us an attractive investment prospect. However, recent incidents at home and around the world underscore the need for continued attention to be paid to all aspects of HSSE.
Flooding, for example, remains an issue in communities across the country and indeed the region. This should lead us to question and consider what small changes can be made to our housing developments, drainage, soil management and water capture systems to better manage the increased runoff we experience during heavy rainfall.
More recently, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram suffered a disruption in service that resulted in these platforms going down for hours. This occurrence demonstrated the need for companies to have multiple avenues for communication and connection with their stakeholders in the event of an emergency. We cannot talk genuinely about resilience and business continuity if core functions like communication and sales are solely dependent on platforms that we do not control. And we also cannot overlook the threat of cybersecurity faced by all businesses today.
At a socio-economic level, the need for us to quickly digitize our national records so that we are better able to manage the risks associated with e.g. “double-dipping” when identifying and delivering assistance to those most in need. This data would also allow us to better trend key economic markers that can be used to inform future policy and planning decisions.
In the healthcare space, it would allow us to respond more quickly to future pandemics. In the present, it would provide us with an opportunity to manage access to safe zones electronically easing the burden on both businesses and consumers.
Finally, as economic activities resume, are we rethinking the way we do business and actively working to help our employees adapt to rapid change while encouraging work-life balance? The reality is that remote work has been a positive experience for many employees, with reports globally pointing to its positive impact on work-life balance. Locally, I think the reduction, if not elimination of long commutes and traffic delays, is one of the driving factors behind this sentiment.
Employees who have been working remotely with no loss in productivity for over a year will want to maintain this new-found work-life balance. Keeping these workers motivated and engaged will require companies to consider hybrid ways of working; where employees feel empowered and have the tools to work safely from anywhere at any time, and should include policies such as remote work, flexitime, and mental health days.
I say all of this to challenge us to rethink our approach to HSSE, encourage collaboration and the embrace of technology to help us create a safer more sustainable way to do business. The goal should always be a happier, healthier workforce who are in turn more willing to learn and adapt to safer and better ways of working that will drive businesses, organizations, and by extension, our economy forward.
Much of what I’ve outlined must be done through policy and partnership among businesses, industry groups and the government. At the micro-level however, I want to challenge everyone attending this conference to ask themselves over the next four days one simple question: What can I do to contribute to the creation of a healthier, safer, more environmentally sustainable future? I truly believe that if we each take small, concerted steps individually, that collectively we can realise the change that we want to see.
In many ways, the work we are doing today is about planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we may never see but that should not discourage or deter us because change will never come if we wait for some other person and some other time. We all need to make more conscious decisions in matters of health, safety, security, and the environment.
As I close, I want to thank our sponsors and partners who have supported us in the past and continue to partner with us as we seek to embed HSSE best practices across all sectors and industries in the region. We have partnered successfully on initiatives to address the challenges brought on by the pandemic, and we look forward to future partnerships.
There is much work to do, but let’s start today, let’s start now, by taking actions that will create a healthier, safer, more environmentally sustainable future for everyone.
CURRENT ISSUEDOWNLOAD NOW
62 Maraval Road,
Newtown, Port of Spain
T: (868) 622-0340, 622-4466,
F: (868) 628-9428
Email AMCHAM T&T
P.O. Bag 150, Newtown,
Port of Spain
Trinidad and Tobago.
HSE Excellence Awards
National Youth Productivity Forum
Copyright © AMCHAM T&T