Workplace Safety In Nigeria: How Far Since 1960?

It was until I became an HSE Journalist at HSENations that workplace safety term began to make more sense to me. The “make use of the right tools” instruction my former boss spattered on our faces then hits me now in an angle where the door of my brain effortlessly flung open for understanding. I have realised that I should have at least say a few words against a scenario I personally witnessed, where nothing close to ensuring a safe workplace was displayed.

Workplace safety in Nigeria
An illustration of some different work hazards. Source

About 6 to 7 carpenters were working on the roof truss of a church building about 14 feet tall. Two were joining the woods from the top, 3 were working on the ground, just below those men. About two other supervised the work. All with no Personal Protection Equipment. To make the story more pathetic, one of the workmen on the ground was throwing timbers to one of the workmen working at the top by resting their feet on the timbers running over the top of the building as they joined woods to perfect the truss design.

In a bid to catch those timbers, the carpenter man will try to be balanced and well-positioned to receive it. With a constant warning from everyone, intermittently, telling him to “be careful”, he would find timbers he felt were strong to hold his feet and would genuflect with his head facing down to receive what’s coming from below.

Now, I wonder what if he had slipped and fall or the timber, making its way up, escape his hand and hit his eyes. I now wonder why they didn’t make use of the ladder they built. Perhaps, it was more terrible, it was a piece of not-too-good-looking woods lazily joined together.

The scene played a typical scene of what occupational safety experts would lament. It was sheer negligence on the part of the carpenters who were absurdly exposing themselves to the hazards of the job.

I’m quite sure if there was a fall on that day, the negligence of the workmen wouldn’t even be a narrative. It would be something else wrapped around Africa’s doom.

Such occurrences like that would make you wonder the growth rate of workplace safety awareness in the formal and informal sector of the economy.

Recently, after 14 long years, the federal government reviewed the Occupational Health and Safety Policy.

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In the introduction of the policy, it read that “The National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health is the government’s approach for
achieving, among others, a National Development philosophy for building a united,
self-reliant and productive economy, through reducing so far as is reasonably
practicable, the causes and effects of hazards inherent in the work processes, work
activities and work environment”.

The Advancement of OSH

Some experts have since said that the development of the policy and the advancement in information and technology is helping to raise the standard of the industry and aiding the consciousness of safety in workplaces.

Monica Nwosu

According to Executive director of Association of Nigerian Women Safety Professional (ANWOSAP), Monica Nwosu, “This year’s independence celebration is coming with the approval of a new national policy on occupational safety and health by the Federal Government”.

“With this recent development and many other improvements, I think the Occupational Health and Safety Profession is progressing and not retrogressing.”

“We may not be where we truly desire to be as a profession, the truth, however, is we are no longer where we used to be. The awareness and consciousness of occupational health and safety are gradually increasing albeit in a snail slow speed”.

Gogomary Oyet discussing Workplace safety in Nigeria
Gogomary Oyet

The Head of External Relations and Communications at OVH Group, who is also a certified NEBOSH professional, Gogomary Oyet also said, “The workplace is improving every day due to the level of risk appreciation in the workplace. This is premised on the level of awareness amongst workers and the many access to information on the internet. We have more people who have been trained within Nigeria and outside and there is a high level of collaboration and information sharing”.

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Adding his voice, Executive Director, SMTS Nigeria LTD, Wale Bakare said “The standard has definitely improved, especially in the construction sector. There has been a steady improvement in the level of awareness over the years in both the public and private sectors. This has been complemented by an increase in the number of Health & Safety practitioners and proliferation of HSE focused Groups”.

Eugene Itua, The CEO of Natural Eco Capital, also opined that “It has been progressing. Looking at the various activities in the different sectors, it has been that of growth. Growth in terms of knowledge and amongst the professionals, whether in public or private sectors”.

OSH’s Snail Speed Growth

Monica’s assertion of the snail speed maybe the acceptable means to describe the speed rate of the progress made in the industry.

For someone one like the National Chairman of Nigeria Institute of Safety Engineers (NISE), Engineer Azuka Emeasoba, the belief is that the formal sector, over the past 60 years since the independence of Nigeria, has progressing in workplace safety awareness but not the informal sector. According to him, “Workplace safety in an informal sector cannot be achieved in Nigeria because of the mindset of the people that has not been reeducated towards being safety conscious”.

However, Former National Chairman of NISE, Engineer Biodun Oyedepo reiterated that “Like in other areas, workplace safety has been retrogressing. There are many examples to support my claim. A slippers manufacturing company in Ikorodu where the workers were locked inside the factory and there was a fire incident that claimed the lives of some of the workers readily came to my mind”.

“Just last week there was a fire outbreak at an LPG plant in Iju Lagos that also claimed some innocent lives. Avoidable accidents not limited to the workplace have been on the increase in recent time”.

The Way Forward

The diverse opinion of these experts only brings to the conclusion that so far since 1960, Nigeria may still be far from achieving a full awareness and operationalisation of workplace safety ethics. It is as Wale Bakare describes it that “much more needs to be done to get to the promised land”.

There is obviously more work left for the Occupational Safety and Health professionals, the government and stakeholders as it concerns them.

Wale Bakare discussing Workplace Safety In Nigeria
Wale Bakare

Wale Bakare advised that “While the recently revised National Policy on OSH is a step in the right direction, it is imperative that the long-delayed Bill on OSH in the country is passed into law and a Commission for regulating and enforcing the OSH regime in the country is established. This will move us quickly to meet up with the rest of the developed world in Health & Safety”.

Engineer Oyedepo suggested that “The Government should partner with safety Professionals in the country. The professionals should carry out risk assessments of the workplace. Also, all the provisions of the factory acts should be enforced”.

“Going forward, there needs to be legislative backing on workplace safety regulations with properly trained safety officers enforcing compliance. Some regulations are already in place especially the factories act that lays more emphasis on workers health insurance and accident reporting. Defaulters should also be made to pay for their negligence”, Engineer Azuka Emeasoba stressed.

Adebola Bada, Board Chairman of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (103) also stated that the country has to prioritize the “duty of care” which is largely missing in our systems” and Eugene Itua called for continued advocacy.

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Author Profile

Smart Olawale
Smart Olawale is a Journalist (writing for HSENations), Marketing & Communication Enthusiast, Digital Marketer, Speaker and Educationist.
He holds a B.Sc Degree in Mass Communication from the prestigious Olabisi Onabanjo University.
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