By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
For many years, Norsk Hydro has been a leader in the world market of production and sale of ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer. The markets in North and Central America are important to the company, and Hydro Agri has produced ammonia on the Caribbean island Trinidad for ten years.
At the turn of the year 1990/91 Norsk Hydro bought 100% of the ammonia plant Fedchem and 49% of the company Trinidad Nitrogen Company (Tringen), which owns the two ammonia plants Tringen I and Tringen II. Norsk Hydro is the operator of all the three plants through its fully-owned subsidiary Hydro Agri Trinidad (HAT), which are located on the same site in the outskirts of an industrial area on the west coast of Trinidad.
High injury rates
The report describes safety problems at the three ammonia plants. In our report, we discuss the number of injuries, and compare it with Hydro Agri's production in Norway, in Europe and world-wide. The report also describes how HAT has handled two fatal accidents that happened in 1995 and 1997. Finally, the report describes how the local community is not involved in the safety work at the plant, and how standards and systems to handle safety at Hydro Agri Trinidad are different from Hydro's similar production in Porsgrunn, Norway.
The chapter of the report that discusses the injury rates, shows that HAT's workers are more exposed to lost time injuries than the average of Hydro Agri's workers in Europe, and that HAT is among the Hydro Agri production plants with the highest number of injuries in total.
The employees of contractors working at the plant are more exposed to injuries than the other workers. This phenomenon is common among the fertilizer companies whose statistics NorWatch has checked out. It is disquieting that employees of HAT's contractors suffer lost time injuries more than three times as often as the average of the Hydro Agri contractors in Europe.
In the fatal accident in 1997, seven workers were injured. Two of them died, and two became physically disabled. How HAT has been treating the injured workers and the widows, is a sad story. The widows of the dead workers and the five surviving workers have taken Norsk Hydro to court to get a compensation for the loss of their husbands, and for the suffering that they have gone through and that they are still living with.
At this moment, 24-year-old Rajesh Ramoutar is living in Trinidad with burns on 70% of his skin, an infected wound on his neck, a bandage around his head as well as mental problems. Both he and his colleague Naz Mohammed were disabled as a result of the accident, and Naz Mohammed has been to surgery by doctors in the USA many times. They are trying to enable him to live as normally as possible in the future. None of the injured workers has had any financial compensation from their employer, Hydro Agri Trinidad.
Several times every year, the people in the neighbouring villages near HAT's ammonia plants are troubled with ammonia gas leakages around their houses. The gas causes irritation of people's respiratory passages, and it frightens them. In the villages Pranz Gardens and Phoenix Park, none of the persons NorWatch talked to had been given information on the health and safety aspects of ammonia production. Such information material has been produced in order to improve the communication with the factory's neighbours, but it has not been handed out.
Another big problem for the local population is that they are not warned about rehearsals at HAT. Suddenly, ambulances and cars with the company's logo turn up, and men wearing gas masks rush through the village. Such incidents spread fear and insecurity among the locals, who are not included in HAT's safety procedures.
The report ends with a series of recommendations on what Hydro Agri Trinidad and Hydro Agri International can do to improve their safety routines.
Norsk Hydro in Trinidad & Tobago
Hydro Agri Trinidad Ltd. (HAT) is owned 100% by Norsk Hydro. In total, HAT runs three ammonia plants and has 340 employees. The company is registered in Bermuda, but it has all its activity in Trinidad. One of the factories is owned 100% by HAT, and was taken over at the turn of the year 1990/1991. Norsk Hydro owns 49% of Trinidad Nitrogen Company (Tringen), which owns the two other factories; Tringen I and Tringen II. The authorities own the remaining 51% of Tringen, which only has seven employees of its own because HAT operates it. 11% of the world exports of ammonia in 1996 came from these three plants.
Norwatch Newsletter 7/00