Lack of synergy, inadequate regulation bane of African safety: AfriSAFE CEO
In this interview, Chief Executive Officer of AfriSAFE, Femi Da-silva explains how late submission of entry requirements caused some expected brands / names to be dropped from consideration for this year’s award. He also explains two of the greatest challenges confronting the safety industry in Africa and how tackling these challenges will help the industry gain more mileage.
What is unique about this year’s award?
This year, despite having over 10,000 nominations across 23 African countries, there are going to be less awardees than usual. We took a decision not to allow entries submitted after the extended deadline for submission of nominations. We extended the deadline three times just to accommodate more entries, but we found out some people still chose to submit after the grace period. In fact, 60 percent of nominations came in after the closing of nomination. We know that in safety practice, doing the right thing at the wrong time could precipitate a hazardous situation. So, we decided not to encourage late submission even though we were still pushed to extend.
However, we must state that those who submitted entries after the deadline were automatically disqualified because of late submission and not because they have not performed well.
Another thing is that there are some entries that should have scored enough marks to merit being awarded but because they did not follow the guidelines as stipulated in a form that was sent to them, they will not be awarded tonight. We feel that as safety professionals, they ought to know the importance of following instructions.
Truth be told, there are some entries, particularly in the corporate categories, we feel could have done better in their ratings. But from observation, we found this is not always the fault of the nominee. While the nominee could have achieved a lot in the category in which they were nominated, often, the staff or individual that submitted or worked on the document took it with levity or didn’t apply seriousness in supplying the right information or filling the nomination form the way it’s required. Either by omission or commission, it reflects negatively on the nominee’s mark. I could have mentioned names but that will not be necessary.
We know that some individuals and organizations could have scored more marks if only the right information had been adequately supplied to aid our assessment.
We have identified a way to resolve this going forward. To guide next year’s nominees, we’ll send a sample of this year’s winning submissions.
Challenges facing the safety profession
One of the challenges is that there is still lack of synergy or lack of proper collaboration between various safety professionals and even safety professional organizations. We see a lot of people not sticking to their area of specialization. It’s very common to see one person doing exactly what the other person is doing even when he or she lacks the right expertise in that area. We see a lot of people going into areas they are not qualified to handle and end up messing things up, creating a negative image for the profession and professionals. For instance, if you are a process safety professional, stick to it. If you an ergonomist or occupational psychology/occupational health professional, stick to it too. We feel that if you are good in one aspect of safety, you should stick to what you are good at and then collaborate with somebody else who has expertise in the area you are not so good at.
There is this saying, why reinvent the wheel?
Expending resources on a solved problem is a waste of effort. That is why we as an organization will not go into safety training despite that there has been a lot of temptation to do so. We are focused on marketing communication and events for the safety industry. We will stick to our core area of expertise. There are many competent organizations that are already offering trainings and doing it well already. We will rather refer people to such organizations.
That is why we collaborate with various people / organization to make this thing bigger. If you see us having a lot of collaborations with various associations, this is the reason.
That way, the industry can move forward and unnecessary competition will be eliminated.
Then another thing that is still a challenge is proper regulation. Except for some African nations, the energy to enact laws and set guidelines do not match the energy for implementing and enforcing them. It is like rules are put in place just to fulfill all righteousness. The zeal to implement is just not there. This is due mostly to corruption. I boldly say that many government officials, especially heads of agencies, that should oversee enforcing the rules do not do so because of selfish interest/personal gain and this is corruption. They are more driven by monetary gain than doing what is right for the industry. They forget that when you do the right thing over time, money will come.
This is the same thing with our various safety professional associations too. A lot of unbecoming things are happening in some of these associations. That is why today, we are going to be honoring some associations that have distinguished themselves in keeping sanity within their ranks. We will be commending them for setting a good example.
We believe that safety professional associations ought to be united. When united, they can hold government regulators to account. But how will they come together when there is division? So that is one other challenge in the industry as well.
There is a complaint from some quarters about not winning in a category. How do you respond?
People in some top organizations, especially multinationals and others that have been around for many years, complain when they don’t get to win a category in which they were shortlisted. Our response is that we are not “totally concerned” with that really. Yes, working in a top organization gives some leverage but that is not the major scoring criteria. The major marks come from your impact in the industry.
What impact have you had in the industry?
In your place of work, you are being paid for rendering professional service. But beyond your paid work…You might complain that you don’t have enough time to be able to contribute towards your industry, but is your money and other resources representing you? How many people have you mentored? We are concerned about that. How many safety programs have you supported to create more awareness in the industry? What impact have you had in the industry, even for companies, beyond the gains of business? What can you show as evidence of impact within your industry? That is why you see in some categories that someone with only five years of experience wins, even when there is another person in that same category with 25 years of experience.
The reason is that the winner is making a difference and making the world around him/her better than they met it and that is of much concern to us. So, our major focus is on impact rather than years of experience.
Of course, there are categories that are tied to workplace achievements. An example is Professional of the Year. Even within that category, we still have marks for what you’ve been able to achieve beyond the workplace.
What should we look forward to next year?
We try never to rest on our oars and to seek better ways of improving every year. That is why we can give the assurance that the 2023 event will be far better. For one, we will ensure to roll out the programs for next year’s award early. We will also reorganize our pre-event safety campaigns to tackle a wider audience even though we have not done badly judging by numbers at our disposal. We are going to be launching a campaign that is going to touch every nook and cranny of safety industry. The campaign will be on various social media channels and mainstream media and will be very loud as we will also mount billboards in strategic locations in different states of the federation. Also, we will seek better ways of recognizing and celebrity safety ingenuity in the informal sector.
All these and more we can achieve with the right sponsorships. That is why we are advocating for more organizations to sponsor this event so that together we can make more impact across Africa and beyond.