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Charlene Johnson
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Charlene Johnson
2021-05-10 11:17
Thank you so much, Chair and committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to address this committee today.
My name is Charlene Johnson. I am the CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association, more commonly known as Noia.
Our association represents member companies that are involved in the offshore oil and gas supply and service sector. Noia members are very diverse. They include those who operate supply vessels and helicopters, human resource agencies, safety and environmental companies and even those involved in the hospitality industry, which also receives numerous spinoffs from the offshore here.
I appear on behalf of those members to offer my comments on Bill S-3, an act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act.
This is my second time speaking with the natural resources parliamentary committee about this issue, and I certainly thank you for the opportunity. My remarks are reflective of my comments when I presented to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources back in February.
I would like to note that Noia was appreciative of the actions of the Senate and similarly appreciative of the Department of Natural Resources for acting quickly upon the Senate passing the bill and providing an opportunity for Noia to provide comments on new regulations. This is exactly the type of expediency we were hoping for, and I hope the legislation and regulations can be passed and enacted before the end of the calendar year.
Noia has spoken a lot, including to many federal officials, about competitiveness and timelines. As I appear before you, my message remains the same. The process to institute new Atlantic occupational health and safety initiative regulations for the offshore has taken far too long. It is another symptom of the disease of delay that has permeated our industry and hindered our growth.
Thankfully, in this current situation, the actions of those involved in the offshore, including offshore operators and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, coupled with the protections provided by the Atlantic Accord and the Accord Implementation Act, have ensured that safety has remained a priority in the offshore oil and gas industry.
The industry is already carrying on with performance-based standards and international best practices to ensure the safety of workers. While the regulatory process has taken long, we have comfort in action taken by all of those who participate in this industry and their commitment to safety. That has been, and I believe, will always remain paramount; however, we need to complete this process and similar processes more quickly.
To give a quick example of industry safety, which the offshore is a leader of in Newfoundland and Labrador, both Hibernia, the oldest facility, and Hebron, our newest facility, had loss-time injury rates of zero in 2018.
With that said, I would like to point out that the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council was appointed in March 2019, and, to my understanding, has been meeting twice a year. The corresponding committee for offshore Newfoundland and Labrador is not yet established. In the best interest of everyone, this should be corrected as quickly as possible.
The international industry monitors the speed of our processes, and protracted delay influences their interest. Continual delay, inconsistent regulation and the ever changing and ever moving goalposts impact decisions to participate and invest in the Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador offshore. We need to overcome these significant hurdles.
In that light, Noia is supportive of efforts to advance and complete this process, and supports Bill S-3, yet, while we need to get this done, it needs to be done right. We do not wish to see a protracted process, but we also do not wish to be back to this process again in short order. I believe the process undertaken by NRCan in the last two months can accomplish just that.
Additionally, we need to ensure that the occupational health and safety regulations we enact now avoid unnecessary duplication with other legislation. Most importantly, we must not lower any standard of health and safety in the offshore.
In essence and to conclude my remarks, Noia supports the completion of this process in a timely manner, one that includes a holistic approach to offshore regulations and considers the demonstrated commitment of the industry to ensure the safety of each and every individual who works offshore in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Thank you, and thank you again for your time.
Dave Mercer
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Dave Mercer
2021-05-10 11:22
Thank you and good afternoon, honourable members of the Standing Committee.
My name is Dave Mercer. I'm president of Unifor local 2121 and a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador oil and gas industry recovery task force.
On behalf of Unifor members in the energy sector, I would like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources for inviting me again for the second time to comment on Bill S-3, an act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act
Unifor represents nearly 800 workers in the offshore oil sector, including members of local 2121 who work on the Hibernia and Terra Nova FPSO. Our members in the offshore industry know first-hand the importance of the sector to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador and just how much of an impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on workers in this province.
Since the crisis began last spring, more than 400 of our members have been laid off from the oil industry. They are part of a group of thousands of workers who work directly in the offshore oil and gas sector who have been laid off. There are possibly thousands of jobs in the industry and service supply sector that have been lost as well.
From the very start of this crisis, Unifor has tirelessly advocated for measures to kick-start the recovery of the offshore oil and gas industry while ensuring the return of decent, good-paying jobs to the province. The members of Unifor recognize the immense importance of the Offshore Health and Safety Act, which was introduced in 2014 to clarify a maze of offshore regulations, fill in gaps between federal and provincial jurisdictions and to provide offshore workers with the protections that are at least equal to those that exist for onshore workers.
We therefore agree with Senator David Wells—
I'm sorry, can you hear me? Something keeps coming up.
Dave Mercer
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Dave Mercer
2021-05-10 11:24
Okay.
We therefore agree with Senator David Wells that to allow the transitional regulations to lapse at the end of 2020 has been a dereliction of duty by the current federal government, which has had six years to develop and implement permanent regulations. This is particularly the case in light of the tragedies that offshore workers have experienced in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador due to the absence of sufficient health and safety regulations in the past.
All of you are probably familiar with the collective trauma experienced with our communities after disasters such as the Ocean Ranger and Cougar Flight 491 Well, today we're right back where we started. Our members in the offshore sector have worked within a regulatory void for over four months with no occupational health and safety regulations to protect them.
While we understand this is a complicated process to implement permanent regulations, the offshore industry has advanced far beyond where it was in 2014, and it is more important than ever to have updated regulations in place to protect our members. Six years is more than enough time. I'm glad to see that the Senate amended the bill to reflect the idea. This should be the final extension for the deadline, and permanent regulations should be in place by the end of the year. Unifor also supports the requirement that the Department of Natural Resources submit a progress report to the Senate by June 15 outlining a clear implementation schedule.
I urge Parliament to pass Bill S-3 as soon as possible so that the transitional regulations are revived, even if only until the end of the year while permanent regulations are being sorted out. Our members in the offshore industry work in a unique environment with significant safety challenges, and many workers had to lose their lives for the health and safety regulations to get to where they are today.
However, I'll also ask the government to do more to investigate how these regulations can be strengthened as part of the development of permanent regulations to ensure that companies cannot simply shirk their responsibility to conduct preventive maintenance and repairs by pausing operations as they have done during the COVID-19 crisis. In March, Unifor submitted detailed recommendations to strengthen these regulations as part of the stakeholder consultations. Unifor believes that solutions to health and safety issues are best resolved with full participation of workers' health and safety representatives of the joint health and safety committees in all workplace activities related to occupational health and safety. Workers have a right to know about hazards in the workplace. They have a right to fully participate in workplace health and safety, and of course, workers always have the right to refuse.
Because offshore work is so remote, workers are not always protected by the intersection of workplace occupational health and safety inspectors who may be hours or days away. The offshore workplace is one where the internal responsibility system, or IRS, must be strong. We believe that the amendments we are proposing to the regulation enhance the IRS by giving the workplace joint health and occupational...and the worker representatives more tools to work with helping employers solve sometimes very complex safety issues while protecting—
Dave Mercer
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Dave Mercer
2021-05-10 11:28
I am.
I also want to see the government provide companies with financial and logistical support to conduct this critical work, which would keep some of our members employed and put the industry right back on its footing for a restart. The fact of the matter is that the question of health and safety becomes a moot point for our members in the offshore oil and gas industries if companies simply walk away and decide to lay everyone off. There is plenty of health and safety work that needs to be done, and our members are ready to do it. Let's make sure that this work is completed and that vital health and safety regulations are put in place permanently to protect our workers in the offshore industry.
I will be happy to take any questions and provide further insight into our members' experience in the offshore industry.
Thank you for your time.
Charlene Johnson
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Charlene Johnson
2021-05-10 11:30
I can start, Dave, if you want.
In terms of the safety of the workers offshore, I don't see any impact in the interim four months or even until we get to the end of the year. The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which regulates the industry, is in the process of issuing—and it may have done this already—an addendum to each of the offshore operators' authorization basically indicating that each operator must continue to follow the provisions that are contained in the transitional offshore regulations even though they have expired.
CAPP, the Canada Association of Petroleum Producers, actually went above and beyond that and developed six industry best practice documents. They have now become actual codes of practice that the C-NLOPB has adopted.
I'm not fearful for the safety of the offshore workers, but it just comes down to the fact that something as paramount as safety really shouldn't be taking seven or eight years. It's time we get it done and move on. We always look to international best practices. We want the best, most modern safety regulations there are for people working in very remote, harsh environments.
I'm confident that all the safety measures are still in place as per the operation authorities of these operators. It's more, as I said in my opening remarks, just another thing that takes so long to get done in our offshore. Especially when it comes to safety and the offshore, it shouldn't take this long.
Dave Mercer
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Dave Mercer
2021-05-10 11:32
If I may, I will just jump in here and mirror the image that Charlene was talking about. Yes, the C-NLOPB is in full force there and it is the regulator, but speaking on the members side of it, I can say that it's confusing for them. We had to have meetings with them offshore and explain to them that all of the regulations that were in place should still be in place and that they should always follow up with us if there are any questions for the C-NLOPB or any other questions.
They were kind of confused for the most part because they didn't know if they were left without any at all. For us, it was more for information and to ensure that they knew that somehow they would be covered.
Charlene Johnson
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Charlene Johnson
2021-05-10 11:32
If I could—
Charlene Johnson
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Charlene Johnson
2021-05-10 11:33
I would just add, Mr. McLean, that we were really pleased to see how quickly the Department of Natural Resources was in touch with us following the Senate meeting. We did commit at that time to contacting our members. We will ensure that if there's a 30-day turnaround, we will get you responses in 30 days. It came out quickly; it went back quickly, and we're looking forward to the next round.
In the meantime, while this process is unfolding, there is something that can happen in conjunction that would definitely help in the area of safety, and that is expediting the appointments of qualified candidates for the occupational health and safety advisory council here in Newfoundland and Labrador. As I said, that has been in place in Nova Scotia since March of 2019. I don't see any reason why that needs to be held off as we're going through this process, and it's something that should be done.
Charlene Johnson
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Charlene Johnson
2021-05-10 11:34
I guess that is the question. I'm not sure. I understand that it was noted back in early 2020 that we should have a draft by March of 2020, consultation take place, and then regulations in effect by the end of 2020.
Now, I'm not sure why two years more than was originally intended would be needed when it was going to be done in eight to 10 months. I would only surmise that Bill C-69 was a major priority at that time. I know it got through in a fairly quick manner, but I guess I can't answer the question.
Whenever we have been consulted, we have been very expeditious about getting back. I understand that the province is doing the same. My understanding is that the minister said they're waiting for this too. I wish I could provide you with more answers, but I don't know.
Dave Mercer
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Dave Mercer
2021-05-10 11:35
Yes. All I'll say is that we were told a long time ago that this would be pretty easy to do and to get done, but it keeps getting pushed ahead and pushed ahead and pushed ahead. When they started it back in February and tried to put something together, everybody who was involved jumped on the bandwagon and tried to push this. I don't see why we're stalling now.
Hilary Jane Powell
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Hilary Jane Powell
2021-05-10 11:36
Ms. Jones, can I ask you to say a few more words? We'll see if interpretation is able to hear you or not.
Hilary Jane Powell
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Hilary Jane Powell
2021-05-10 11:37
You can.
Hilary Jane Powell
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Hilary Jane Powell
2021-05-10 11:37
Yes. The interpreters have told me that they can make do.
Thank you.
Charlene Johnson
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Charlene Johnson
2021-05-10 11:38
I guess the general concern with this bill is that it isn't done yet. In terms of the specific issues, the list is dozens of pages long. I'm not an expert in the specific areas. You'll probably be hearing from the Atlantic director of CAPP, Paul Barnes. The type of feedback that comes to us from our members is around lifeboats, diving, accommodation quarters, lifting of materials on cranes and documentation. It's all-encompassing. As I mentioned, they are already in place. The operators have to abide by the transitional regulations that were in place, but it's just getting this over the finish line to the end-point.
With regard to your question, Ms. Jones, I think you were asking if this can be done unilaterally. My understanding is that it cannot. This is a joint process between the province and the federal government as per the Atlantic Accord act.
Did you have something more specific than that? I'm not sure if I answered your question.
Charlene Johnson
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Charlene Johnson
2021-05-10 11:40
Yes, my understanding of the way the process works is that the federal government is doing all of the drafting of the regulations, and it is keeping the province informed. My understanding is that there is some consideration for allowing the general public and the province and associations like ourselves to see the draft at the same time. I'm not sure if that is the case. I know that's one of the things being considered by the department to streamline and speed up this process so we can get it done in a year.
As for COVID and its impacts, Dave, you might be able to speak to this more. We've seen, as with everyone and every industry, that many people are pivoting in different ways and it's really advancing things by years that we didn't know could have been done before. There are some great examples because companies have already been focusing on digitalization and moving staff onshore who used to have to be offshore. You may be aware that Exxon have a control centre onshore now. Those are folks who would have had to be offshore before are now home in their beds every night. From the safety perspective, that's positive.
I think some of this got advanced because of COVID. In this sense, some positives come from COVID as well, but just generally, COVID has had a significant impact on our industry because of the reduction in demand for the oil product and then, of course, the resulting reduction in price. I won't get into that here today because that's not about safety, but there's a page long list of deferrals and delays and cancellations that have happened in our offshore that have resulted in the thousands of layoffs Dave referred to in his opening remarks.
Dave, maybe you can get into more specifics about COVID and technology.
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