Who would you rather work for, Kentex or Shell?
Those who like to bash supposedly greedy, grubbing multinational oil companies might want to reflect that on the Malampaya gas platform operated by Shell Philippines Exploration—that supplies roughly a third, or 2,700 megawatts, of our electricity—where the gas is processed before going to the power plants onshore, Shell has achieved over 16 million man-hours with no lost time injury. And on a platform that is processing high-risk gas that is volatile and explosive, and where one mistake is made—and boom! Its safety procedures are intense and impressive, its maintenance continuous and impeccable.
Kentex Manufacturing Corp. made rubber sandals—a rather simple procedure with little risk to it—yet 72 poor and underpaid workers were killed in a factory fire. It had no safety procedures, no emergency drills, no maintenance discipline, nothing. And I’m willing to bet that because those procedures, drills, etc. cost money, and Kentex wanted every cent for itself. I’m guessing on that, but based on 40 years of business experience here, I’d put some weight to it. And where was the government in all this? Why wasn’t the factory inspected, and closed, until it met safety standards? The government is equally to blame for this heartrending disaster.
And history tells me that those killers will be back in business soon. They won’t go to jail, they won’t be forced to compensate the devastated families—the P151,200 offered for a life lost is an insult. Those were 72 young people with a full life yet ahead of them. Recompense (not that money ever compensates for the loss of a loved one) should be in the millions of pesos. The owners of Kentex deserve to lose everything they own. And I mean that: everything. They should be brought to pauper status. They wouldn’t need money in jail, anyway.
History? The owners of Sulpicio Lines, a company that has killed more than 5,000 people, are back in business under a different name. The owners of Ozone Disco nightclub that killed 162 youngsters were finally found guilty after 19 years and were sentenced to only up to 10 years imprisonment, max. One of the accused is still at large.
As an aside, where have you seen a court decision that was handed down after 43 years? Some of the litigants are dead. What a court system! It’s no wonder my column on Rodrigo Duterte’s highly controversial methods (“Duterte’s safe city,” 5/28/15) got overwhelming support and was shared close to 40,000 times on the social media. The way the legal system—and that includes the police, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Department of Justice, judges and prosecutors, and particularly defense lawyers—acts is just not acceptable. The whole justice system is in need of massive revolution—not improvement or reform, but revolution.
But I’ve gotten distracted. I wanted to tell you of the trip I made to the Malampaya gas platform some 50 kilometers offshore from El Nido, because there’s a lot to learn there.
I’m an engineer; wherever I go, I automatically look for structural faults, such as in systems and operations. On Malampaya I found none, except for a little, minor rust on a spot soon to be repainted. I can well imagine what I would have found at Kentex. The presence of flammable chemicals right next to where someone was welding we already know about. That’s what caused the fire, and that’s only one violation. The barred windows, preventing the workers’ escape, were another, and the lack of a sprinkler system yet another. That would never be allowed in Shell.
Before I went on the trip, I had to get a medical certificate of fitness, pass an online test on safety, security and environment, and told what I could and could not do. On arrival in Puerto Princesa, we were given overalls, steel-capped boots, helmets, goggles and earmuffs to wear for our protection. We even had to practice putting on the helicopter seat belt on a seat in the hangar. And there was a video of what to do in case the chopper fell into the sea. The life jacket even had an emergency breathing system.
On arrival on the platform, we viewed two more videos and were given personal briefings on safety measures and do’s and don’ts. The result: No serious accidents, let alone deaths. There are lifeboats and life rafts everywhere. A disaster strikes, and there’s an escape route: no barred windows to trap and kill young people.
When do you suppose local companies will copy that discipline? When do you suppose national and local governments will force that discipline? Sadly, you know the answer. I’m going to vote (yes, I can vote) for someone who will go beyond promise. But give me that.
The workers in Malampaya work two weeks and take two weeks off, and are very well compensated for the risks and sacrifice of being away from their families. (Kentex, please note. No, not Kentex, it must not be allowed to reopen, but others like it. Pay your workers properly.) And they are well fed; the quality of the food matched a decent restaurant. Each of those workers, from the offshore installation manager to staff members or contractors, have the authority to stop activities they assess to be unsafe. They just don’t walk by, uncaring, as I see far too often elsewhere. They care about each other’s safety on the job and will intervene if necessary.
Am I promoting Shell? I sure am. Its strict safety and environmental standards are what all companies should be required to achieve so we don’t have another Kentex, another 72 dead young people.
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