• Tuesday, May 21, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Indorama’s health, safety, environment compliance tested in workplace accident with contract staff

businessday-icon

Indorama Nigeria may have become a success story over the years in their venture with the Eleme Petrochemicals Limited (now Indorama-Eleme Petrochemicals Limited), but their prowess in the Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) compliance and alertness seems to have come under test.

A worker, said to be an indirect staff member (working with a contractor), allegedly suffered leg loss in a workplace accident few years ago. The matter seems to fester in both the wound and in the public domain, threatening to call out the multinational company in the public.

The indirect worker named, David Depreye, has gone to both the court of competent jurisdiction and that of public opinion seeking what he believed to be justice with millions in naira as compensation. Indorama has kicked against the demand.

Giving his own account, Depreye said he fell from a truck at Masher section of the fertilizer unit of the plant. Saying the accident which he said claimed his legs was not his fault, he narrated how he was taken to a hospital where surgery took place.

He said the treatment led to iron in his leg. “The company eventually wanted to discharge me and ended up getting me an apartment.”

Now, Depreye said, he was not well-treated and that the injury was bringing purse and that he has been neglected. “I decided to block the Indorama gate with my wheelchair. People pitied me. People advised me to get a lawyer.”

He claimed that the company he worked for said hospital Indorama had not fulfilled their terms to them on the matter.

He cried out thus: “I am suffering. I want who will help me. There is iron in my leg. I want them to treat me at a better hospital so I can move on in my life. They should give me what should take me in life. I have purse in my leg.

I am begging that they should treat me.” His story seemed to have many gaps, but Indorama has submitted their side of the story.

Indorama opens up:

Addressing the press on Friday, February 2, 2024, the Corporate Affairs Manager, Jossy Nkwocha, said: “On Wednesday, 31st January 2024, Depreye, an employee of SPEO Nigeria Limited, a service contractor to Indorama Fertilizer Limited (IFL), alleged that after suffering a workplace accident, Indorama refused or failed to provide him with medical support to help him recover from the injuries sustained. This is contrary to the true position of the matter.

“In fact, on 23rd December, 2020, Depreye, a Masher employed by SPEO Nigeria Limited and deployed to Indorama bulk loading bay, sustained injury on his two legs while at work in IFL complex.”

The manager said Indorama responded immediately by providing first aid medical treatment at the company’s clinic within the complex. “He was thereafter transferred at the expense of Indorama to SPEO retainer hospital – Rehoboth Medical Service Hospital – where orthopedic medication was administered.

“In view of the fact that SPEO was at the time of the accident not registered with National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), he could not avail himself of the benefits accruable to an employee who suffered workplace accident as provided under the Employee Compensation Act.”

Consequently, he said, on compassionate grounds, Indorama took over the medical bills of Depreye and allegedly ensured that he is kept on the payroll until this moment. In other words, he added, his salary has been paid up to date.

“After being hospitalised for over a year at which time he went through corrective surgery on the legs at the expense of his employer SPEO and Indorama, he was eventually discharged but continued treatment on outpatient basis.

“This was the situation when in March 2023 Depreye filed a lawsuit at the National Industrial Court Port Harcourt requesting the Court for firstly an order compelling his employer SPEO and Indorama to provide proper medical attention to his fractured leg and secondly to pay a total sum of N8m as compensation plus N500,000 as legal fees.”

Upon being served with the court process, he added, Indorama invited Depreye and his lawyer to a meeting to resolve the matter amicably. “In attendance was the Managing Director of SPEO and his lawyer. At that meeting on 19th April, 2023, it was observed that there was a need to have further treatment to correct the surgery earlier conducted by Rehoboth Medical Service Hospital.

“The claimant and SPEO identified University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) as the hospital where the corrective surgery will be carried out.

“It was also agreed that the claimant, his lawyer, together with SPEO’s MD and his Lawyer should go to the UPTH for medical appraisal and obtain the cost implication of the final surgery.”

Nkwocha said Depreye reported back at a second meeting in the complex that the total cost of corrective surgery would be about N1.9m.

Twist and demand for native doctor

Nkwocha said at this stage, Depreye said he did not want surgery anymore but traditional treatment in his village and that the money for treatment and compensation should be handed over to him.

“He now demanded for N12million in full and final settlement of all claims against the N8million he was requesting the court to grant him.

“Although Indorama is not the direct employee of Mr. Depreye and therefore, not ordinarily liable for his treatment, Indorama nonetheless offered to pay him N5m in full and final settlement of all claims but he refused threatening us that ‘we shall meet in court’.

“When the suit came up on 24th October, 2023, his lawyer informed the court that parties were exploring out of court settlement and applied for adjournment to enable the parties conclude.”

He said the lawsuit was adjourned to 4th December, 2023. “On that day, the Judge informed the court of his transfer from Port Harcourt and that the case would be assigned to a new Judge.

“It was against this background that Depreye rushed to the press to make spurious allegations against the company with a view to tarnishing the hard-earned reputation of Indorama.”

Nkwocha highlighted the fact that Depreye is neither on medical leave nor currently hospitalised. “The medical reports have not shown that he is unfit for work. Yet, since his discharge from hospital over a year ago, he has refused to turn up at the Indorama Complex for work while Indorama has for three years since the accident, continued to pay his salaries and allowances till date.

“Notwithstanding this umbrage, Indorama, on compassionate ground has invited Depreye and his lawyer to a meeting scheduled for Monday 5th February 2024 in the continuing search for an amicable resolution.”

Conclusion:

Fresh investigations have been opened to determine if Depreye declined medical attention preferring native treatment. Investigations have also opened to ascertain if the injured worker is demanding for N12million to get native treatment when the medical option is N1.9million.

Industry sources however, say this may cause eyes to turn to Indorama’s level of HSE compliance to avoid workplace accidents and the response level when any incident takes place. Most multinational companies insist on documentation of all response processes to allow for massive evidence to prove their innocence in the face of workers seeking undue compensation. These processes may be required as the case progresses, either in court or in the court of public opinion, the experts said.