Culture change needed on health and safety – Edghill to local businesses

With Guyana embarking on a modern economy and many businesses expanding, Public Works Minister Juan Edghill has emphasised the need for operators in different sectors to adopt a new culture of having health and safety as a core part of their operations.

Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton with CLBD officials and representatives of the 30 companies that completed the HSSE MS programme at Thursday’s awards ceremony held at Marriott Hotel

He was at the time delivering the feature address at the Centre for Local Business Development (CLBD) award ceremony for 30 companies that completed a six-month Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) Management System programme. These participants, mostly small operators, primarily service the oil and gas sector, which has high health and safety stipulations.
According to the Public Works Minister, Guyana is not where it used to be and the new order of the day calls for businesses to implement the necessary Occupational Health and Safety measures.
“The way we used to be, we got to do better and if we got to do better, it’s not only the Government [but] we got to get full participation… Big businesses have to come into compliance. You that are now growing your own business and developing, start on the right foot. Develop a new culture [of implementing health and safety measures]. So, the way to bring about this kind of transformation and modernisation is to get a culture change,” he contended.
Edghill pointed out that traditionally, Guyanese businesses failed to implement the necessary health and safety requirements due to the costs attached and the impact it would have on their profits. However, the Public Works Minister argued that as responsible and serious business owners, they need to lift their standards in order to compete with and in the modern economy that the country is heading towards.
“Lifting standards means that things can’t be normal… We’re engaging with international partners and some of them come with very, very high standards… If we’re going to lift the standards and be able to engage at levels with international partners, we can’t forever be playing catch and look like the left behind child. We got to improve our standards locally and we must not be forced to improve standards because we gotta partner with some international firm,” he contended.
To this end, Minister Edghill commended the Centre of Local Business Development for preparing local businesses to operate in a modern Guyana.
Meanwhile, similar sentiments on the need for a culture change by Guyanese operators was expressed by Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton during his remarks at Thursday’s award ceremony.
He highlighted that risk-taking in workplaces is unnecessary, and therefore no one – management nor employees – should accept or condone such the lack of appropriate health and safety measures in workplaces, both in the public and private sectors.
“I have a deep concern about workplace accidents… I hold the view that when a worker leaves home to go to work, there’s an expectation of their family that he/she will return them safely at the end of the workday or work period, and every effort should be made by both workers and employers to ensure that this happens,” he posited.
According to Hamilton, while there had been a decline in the number of workplace fatalities over the past two years, his Ministry’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Department continues to work assiduously to improve working conditions and environment, with emphasis on preventative rather than curative measures.
On this note, the Labour Minister urged that companies set up Safety and Health Committees comprising of both management and employees in order to ensure that these bodies are kept functional. Hamilton stressed that taking precautionary steps is good for business, cautioning too that failure to do so can cost businesses.
“A safe and healthy workplace does not only protect workers from injury and illness, but it can also lower injury/illness costs, reduce absenteeism and turnover, increase productivity and quality, and raise employee morale… In today’s world, it is simply unacceptable for corporate executives to ignore safety and health. It is even dangerous for executives to take the chances that they might have taken over the years. The managers, employers face risks and the possibilities of civil and even criminal liability,” he warned.
The Centre for Local Business Development’s HSSE Management System programme, which was developed in collaboration with ExxonMobil and other key industry players, is aimed at empowering companies to implement a safety culture in the workplace.
This is the Centre’s second award ceremony and has seen an increase in participants over the figure from the previous year.
According to CLBD’s Director, Dr Natasha Gaskin-Peters, even more companies are expected to complete the programme next year.
“Not only do we have seven women-owned companies graduating this year, but we have over 15 companies that have women as their HSSE leads in those companies. Overall, the Centre would have trained over 400 companies across its HSSE training programmes. But more importantly, we have over 200 within the HSSE mentorship programme that are actively and diligently working towards completing the programme. So, the next year we expect to have quite a larger batch of companies completing the HSSE MS programme,” she stated.
Among the 30 awardees are companies engaged in 25 different sectors ranging from offices, shipping and logistics, industrial fabrication and catering. This diversification, Dr Gaskin-Peters explained, underscores the important role the HSSE programme plays in Guyana’s growing economy.
The Director went on to say that health and safety is an important part of the work that the Centre does, pointing out that it enables local companies to have documented systems in place to operate their businesses, as well as the necessary documentations needed to participate in procurement processes for contracts with prime industry players.
On this note, Gaskin-Peters urged the graduated companies to ensure they upkeep these health and safety measures.
“I task you with continuing to update and upgrade these system as well as continuing to implement these systems. Let it translate to every business venture that you will undertake. The Centre will continue to follow your progress… We will be checking in on you at our six-month interval as well as annual training. [You] will not be left alone. We will continue to support you throughout this journey,” she asserted. (G8)