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You should read this stakeholders view of Health and Safety at work in Nigeria

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Wednesday, April 27th, 2016
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Health and Safety! This term is increasingly being used all over the world by experts, government officials, companies, and the public in general. The question therefore is, do they all know its importance? Or they are just paying lip-service or worse still playing to the gallery. Events in most parts of the western world suggest not! But coming down to our own country Nigeria, the question cannot be answered quickly.

This write up takes a look at health and safety in Nigeria from the view of a consultant and stakeholder.

Accidents and incidents are not synonymous with Nigeria, Everywhere in the world accidents happen, minor ones like a gash from tripping over a cord in the office to an oil rig explosion. Though they may vary in magnitude and consequence, they occur. Accidents and incidents can never be completely eradicated but as with the logic and intent of health and safety, it can be reduced to the barest minimum or for want of a better phrase, reduced to acceptable levels.
Considering the fact that Nigeria is a developing nation in which a lot of things are not as they should be, we cannot isolate safety standards from the overall situation of things.

Safety in Nigeria, though not a nouvelle concept is still evolving and can be argued to be in the formative stage. This is so because there is no current national legislation that mandates stakeholders and regulators alike. Without strict regulations, health and safety is still assumed to be a good practice by most employers and businesses and little or no attention is paid to it except few multinationals that have to adopt world best practices. The closest thing to a national law is the factories act 1987 and the cap 126 in 1990 and the recent factories act 2004.

Most factories still operate on the 1990 factories act. This act refers to factories alone but as seen everywhere in the world, health and safety laws should go beyond just factories. This view is shared by most stakeholders and in fairness this write up has to mention the recently passed Labour, welfare and safety bill 2012 by the Nigerian senate most recently. When this is signed into law then we can truly say health and safety has taken off in Nigeria.
The factories act of 1990 entrusts the regulation and enforcement of health and safety on the Ministry of labour and productivity and specifically its inspectorate division. Statistics obtained showed that for all the 5888 factories registered as at 2006 there were only 39 inspectors and more alarmingly the South South region of the country with 524 registered factories have only 2 inspectors to cover them all.

This shows a lack of manpower to handle the challenges and not to forget, this only pertains to FACTORIES without considering other places of work. The skill level of inspectors is another cause for worry as most are not abreast with current trends in health and safety. Another cause for worry is the lack of statistical data that can help identify accident frequency by region, sector and severity and help inform decision makers on areas to strengthen regulations. Accident reporting is almost nonexistent and even when reported, data is difficult to assess. Available statistics show that less than 100 accidents were reported in (2001-2006) nationally, with exception of 2005 in which 120 accidents were reported. This is a key area that must be improved if health and safety is to be taken seriously.

Businesses and employers on their own part have not lived up to expectation in delivering social responsibility. As we all know, all business is there to make profit but staff welfare is critical in achieving this. The multi nationals in Nigeria pioneered health and safety in Nigeria and are still leading the pack in terms of health and safety. This is not because they are generous or so concerned but because they have to comply with international standards as they as accountable in their countries of origin. The oil and gas sector is the one with highest awareness on health and safety due to the risky nature of their business and other impacts. Big players in the industry also help in capacity building of regulators and other stakeholders, this is good but really doesn’t bode well as you can’t regulate someone who has more capacity than you and inadvertently even trains your staff. Other employers and factories are not so active as less than 20% of companies have a defined health and safety department or have someone specifically assigned for health and safety. With the growth rate of the Nigerian economy and the increase in foreign direct investment coupled with numerous infrastructural projects ongoing, health and safety should be given priority. As the saying goes” where there is no law, there is no offence” so the signing into law of the recently passed bill with go a long way in prompting businesses to take action.

The safety professional as debatable is as the word is, has a huge role to play in development of health and safety in Nigeria. We have seen in the last few years a huge influx of people getting certifications in health and safety ranging from Masters Degree’s to the widely acclaimed NEBOSH certifications among others. Most of them in the hope of securing a job in the oil industry not realizing that health and safety is not limited to oil and gas industry. Specializations range from food safety, process safety, industrial etc. The safety professionals with a few exceptions of the very experienced and well trained ones see safety as a means to an end rather than see themselves as stakeholders with passion for it. As with our education system in general some poorly trained people claim to be safety professionals. Most consultancies apart from a few mainly focus on training as this is seen as the money spinner. Considering the economic climate and the state of safety in the nation that’s the least they can do. A well defined safety body backed by law would go a long way in helping all safety professionals come together to chart the way forward for safety in Nigeria.

We know the problems and we are optimistic that there would be solutions, giant strides have been made and we are very happy about it. The Lagos State Government with the establishment of the Lagos State Safety Commission and the passage of the safety law have shown themselves to be pioneers and pace setters as other states are yet to replicate the initiative. Their activities are seen around the state as they enforce the law in the state with notices, enlightenment campaigns etc. Their work is hampered by reluctance to change on the part of companies, lack of manpower and backing by a federal law. Kudos to them that even with these constraints they are able to perform their duties as best they can though there is room for improvement. The liaison between them and consultants operating in the state is also good as it has boosted the profiles of the practitioners and also provides a platform for which regulators and stakeholders can meet to chart the way forward. The signing into law of the Labour Welfare and Safety bill 2012 and the replication of the commitment to safety in other states and amongst stakeholders would be the crowning glory and then we can truly say that health and safety is being taken seriously in NIGERIA.






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