NDP MHA Dale Kirby told the Hebron Public Review Commission an independent safety authority is “a natural result” of our growth in the oil and gas industry.
Kirby made the statement in a presentation to the commission on Wednesday, at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s.
A joint provincial-federal body, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) is currently responsible in addressing safety complaints offshore that go unresolved by the employers.
In the spring of 2011, Kirby said, the Dunderdale government said they were engaged in discussions with the federal government on potentially separating safety responsibilities from the CNLOPB, a body also charged with management of the offshore resource. He argued those talks should have advanced to some concrete changes by now.
“I would like to think that an independent safety authority that includes jurisdiction over environmental issues would be in place long before first oil from Hebron comes ashore,” he said.
As for the question of why the NDP feels an independent safety regulator is needed, he claimed some offshore workers simply have little faith in the current system for the resolution of safety-related complaints. He said anonymous complaints on outstanding issues have been finding their way to NDP offices.
“In some cases,” Kirby said, workers do not trust their employers or the CNLOPB to resolve the issues without some kind of retribution for the employee filing the complaint. He could not support this claim with any names on the record.
The CNLOPB has not been represented at the Hebron Public Review Commission meetings, so as not to in any way influence the review or the commissioner’s findings, according to CNLOPB spokesman Sean Kelly.
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A final report from Commissioner Miller Ayre regarding Hebron is to be submitted to the CNLOPB, as well as provincial and federal ministers of Natural Resources, in the new year.
Asked about the subject of an independent safety board, Kelly said the board is leaving the matter for the provincial and federal governments. However, he said, were such a board to be created, he feels the actions undertaken by the safety officers within that board would be akin to the work of those currently operating within the CNLOPB.
The CNLOPB already accepts anonymous tips for investigation from all offshore workers, Kelly said.
As for safety at the Hebron project, Hebron project manager Geoff Parker said ExxonMobil Canada and the Hebron partners are promoting a strong safety culture, one wherein workers are encouraged to come forward with their safety concerns.
“We would encourage everyone to stop work that was happening if it was felt that work was being done unsafely,” he said.
Parker said employees of ExxonMobil have been rewarded for such action in the past, in promotion of safety, something he emphasized was paramount.
“You not only have a right to stop that work, you actually have an obligation to stop that work.”
He pointed to “observation and intervention” cards, like suggestion cards, to be made available on Hebron as a means of direct and anonymous communication between individual employees and management. As well, Hebron will have a joint occupational health and safety committee, so workers can go to their worker representatives on those committees if they feel their concerns are not being addressed.
Ayre said the question of whether or not there should be an independent office solely focused on safety was not a question central to the work of the Hebron Public Review Commission.
“While we may comment at some point, it’s not really a discussion we really want to get into at the moment,” Ayre said.
He suggested debate on the subject was better suited for the House of Assembly.
Kirby said the NDP would be raising the matter in the House of Assembly, if it were open.
“We believe that if we had an independent safety authority, that would provide another venue for individuals to air their concerns,” he said.
CEP local 2121 president Brian Murphy, representing unionized workers on Hibernia and Terra Nova, noted that after the 491 tragedy the entire work force was asked to submit any questions on safety. “Over 350 separate questions were raised. Taking into account that many of these separate questions were the culmination of groups of workers, then the participation in this exercise was phenomenal,” he said.
Murphy did not specifically call for an independent safety regulator in his presentation to the commission, instead focusing on transportation concerns and work shifts.
The creation of an independent safety regulator was one of the recommendations made by Justice Robert Wells in his report from the Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry, held after the March 12, 2009 crash of a Cougar helicopter that resulted in the deaths of 17 of 18 people onboard.