By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
The NorWatch-report on the bad safety routines at the three Hydro Agri ammonia plants at Trinidad was published in June. A representative from Hydro Agri in Norway, Sverre Bjerkomp, went to Trinidad as part of his work on "corporate social responsibility" the same month. He took the opportunity to address the issues focused upon in the report and met with the widows of two workers who died in an accident at the oldest of the three plants back in 1997. They had both sued Hydro Agri, demanding compensation for Hydro's failing to provide a safe working environment. About the same time, lawyers could affirm that an out of court settlement was agreed upon in this issue. Bjerkomp said that his visit to Trinidad was not caused by the NorWatch-report, but that it helped put the compensation issue high on Hydro Agri's agenda.
If we add up the sums that are paid now with the money the two widows have already received, they get approximately USD 500.000 each.
Blaming the lawyer
Bjerkomp is not satisfied with NorWatch's description of the lawyer representing the two widows. He says that attourney of law Fenton Ramsahoye is also to blame for the long time it has taken to get these compensation lawsuits settled. In the report, NorWatch has written that Ramsahoye works for no payment from any of his four clients, and that he will only receive a small amount of money in case of a settlement. It is correct that Ramsahoye would not have received any payment if no settlement was reached, but it is clear that the way these cases have now been settled, his payment will be more than USD 100.000.
The compensation lawsuits filed by the two workers who got severely injured in the same accident in 1997 has not yet been settled. Hydro Agri informs NorWatch that they have contacted Ramsahoye in order to sort out these cases as well. Again, they blame the plaintiff's lawyer, saying that the cases develop slowly because he does not have time to meet with the company. Bjerkomp informs that the settlements with the two widows will set a framework for the compensation packages for the two injured workers.
NorWatch heard from the two widows in October that they had not yet received the money they were promised in the settlement in June. They too are angry with attorney Ramsahoye, who does not have time to meet with them. When NorWatch called Trinidad to confirm this, Ramsahoye's office replied that the court system in Trinidad & Tobago must legally approve the settlement before any money can be paid out.
Improved accident statistics
Bjerkomp reacted negatively towards the NorWatch-report that claims Hydro Agri is practising double standards in their safety routines. This was amongst other things based upon the injury rate statistics from 1996 to 1998, where the lost time injury rate for both employees and contractors at Trinidad were considerably higher than for the same categories in Hydro Agri's Norwegian and European plants.
Bjerkomp sent NorWatch an email stating that the lost time injury rate for Trinidad is now down to 0.9 lost time injuries per million man hours worked over the last 12 months. This, he writes, places Trinidad as number 9 out of the 22 plants Hydro Agri compares with in their own production system. Hydro Agri Trinidad is now in "1st division" of Hydro Agri's internal reporting system for health, environment and safety.
Furthermore, Bjerkomp is of the opinion that the development the last 12 months "should prove that the report's statements on double standards are not rooted in reality".
- A wake-up call
NorWatch criticised Hydro Agri Trinidad for not having included the local communities in its safety work. Important documents about safety at the ammonia plants that have been made specifically for use in the nearby villages, had not been handed out to those villagers NorWatch met with. Hydro Agri has failed in warning about accident/catastrophe drills. This has led to episodes where people have feared they were in severe danger, and this, of course, creates fear. The communities are not informed about the results of measurements that are taken after so called "irregular outlets" at the plants.
Regarding community relations, Bjerkomp admits that the NorWatch-report has been an important "wake-up call" to the company.
- The company has been undergoing a period with a lot of restructuring and construction activities. This is no excuse to work less towards the communities, but it may be a good explanation to what has happened, Bjerkomp says.
Hydro Agri Trinidad has recently arranged meetings with the neighbouring villages Phoenix Park and Pranz Gardens and is looking forward to more contact in the time ahead.
Norwatch Newsletter 10/00