Nigeria needs comprehensive regulatory frameworks on safety – Engr Ekong, NISafetyE National Chairman
— OSH awareness low in government
Engr Akaninyene Edet Ekong MNSE, MISPON, FNISafetyE is the National Chairman of the Nigerian Institution of Safety Engineers (NISafetyE).
In this interview with HSENations, he identifies the most critical challenges to safety practice in Nigeria and proffers solutions. Excerpt…
You will soon be formally installed as new National Chairman of NISafetyE. How do you feel to be so elevated among your colleagues?
Thank you Mr. John Ogunsemore and HSENations. My election as National Chairman is a reflection of the high degree of trust and confidence reposed in me by distinguished members, seasoned professionals and eminent fellows of NISafetyE.
Elevation is not the case here but a call to action and great responsibility as the helmsman. Assuming the lead role to me demands a great deal of commitment and dedication which requires participation by all and this is my focus approaching my investiture.
NISafetyE is relatively new as a body for safety professionals and the group’s activities are not really in the limelight. As the incoming National Chairman, what will you do differently to ensure that your activities make visible impact?
I appreciate your candid remarks. I guess we have to collaborate with HSENations in that regard. However, the Division took off since 2016 and has been able to set up the needed structure to firmly stand and spread nationwide. We had a National Workshop on Petroleum Tanker Safety in November 2018 in Uyo with SON and other stakeholders as a response to the Otedola Bridge Petrol Tanker disaster in Lagos. We have had well-attended conferences, workshops and Fellowship Conferment in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri, Abuja. We shall now be having my Investiture as 3rd National Chairman at the prestigious Ibom Icon Hotel and Golf Resort (Le Meridien) in Uyo. We have made contributions to the review of OSH policies by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, pushed for the creation of Safety Commissions in States – an example being that of Akwa Ibom State Safety Commission which NISafetyE made a presentation at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on 9th March 2020 before the COVID-19 lockdown. The focus of my administration is the development and advancement of Engineering Codes and Standards; ensuring that the necessary machinery to implement them in design are also put in place. A lot of achievement has been made in various aspects of our national life. Though short of our lofty expectations, we are not away from the limelight and not resting on our oars.
Is safety management in Nigeria adequately regulated? If not, what steps can be taken to up the ante?
Ans: Unfortunately, no it is not. What we need is comprehensive regulatory frameworks in Nigeria on Safety at the Federal, State and Local Council levels. This should be done with Safety Engineering as the bedrock of the Engineering practice. As Safety Engineers we must be involved in projects especially from the design stage to execution. The laws must spell out how stakeholders would cooperate in guaranteed enforcement of the laws, for efficiency and effectiveness.
What are the greatest challenges to safety practice in Nigeria and how can these be addressed?
The lack of OSH awareness, especially in the informal sectors and unfortunately in Government; lack of HSE training, Engineering and Behavioural safety approach to HSE administration in all sectors of the economy.
NISafetyE is at a vantage point because of the crossing of safety with engineering. Two recurrent issues in the country are building collapse and market fires. As a safety engineer, what steps can be taken to address these pressing challenges?
Ans: The use of quacks to carry out Engineering projects is a bane and menace. Safety Engineering is distinct from other Safety professionals; it is an aspect that can only be handled by trained and competent engineers, and it starts from the design stage. When considering engineered systems none but Engineers should be drafted to handle those critical aspects of the project. For instance, in an electric power plant, who should oversee safety in the plant? It has to be an electrical safety engineer. In a Process Plant, you need an engineer with a background in Chemical Engineering to be on-site as the Safety Engineer same as in Construction Industry a Civil Engineer handles the Construction Safety / Design aspects there. You cannot give what you don’t have. Failure to use people with the right background and competencies leads to Engineering failures, disasters and losses. Our major markets should be a bit modernised with fire prevention and fighting assets like sprinkler systems, detectors etc like what the modern market we have in Port Harcourt built and equipped with all these by the Governor. So first is the necessary legislation and regulatory frameworks. Secondly, there must be compliance enforcement of laid-down regulation by relevant stakeholders e.g. COREN Regulation on Construction Industry and, thirdly, capacity building for competent engineers and safety practitioners. We have taken steps to ensure that all our members are adequately prepared to deliver on these three fronts with the government and relevant stakeholders. The best approach to safety we know is prevention and we shall continue to base the strength of our members on competency, especially in areas of design, emergency response and fire safety.
As a safety professional, you definitely know the risks involved in engaging in unsafe practices. However, do you recall any personal experience in which you acted unsafely leading to a near miss or an accident?
As a new hire years ago in a plant, I once saw a senior colleague working in an unsafe manner. He had removed the guard from a handheld power tool. At that time, I failed to intervene, and the man slipped and got his wrist severed off. He lost his hand. I should have and could have intervened, but I didn’t because of the age difference and thinking he knew what he was doing. Sadly, the man lost his job after that accident. The compensation to him by the firm would not last forever and for me the memory lingers.
What career advice do you have for fresh safety professionals just cutting their teeth in the profession?
I recommend the following:
Go for competency training after school on HSE and related courses.
Pick a job and pursue a career in engineering with safety at its core, with little or no remuneration. Just get the experience first.
Work closely with established Engineers and allied Professionals.
Fellowship with safety engineers and safety bodies through participating in conferences, seminars etc. Be a volunteer.
Do you have any regrets taking to this profession? If you had to choose it all over again, would you choose engineering/safety or another career path?
Of course, I absolutely have no regrets taking to the Engineering profession and becoming a Safety Engineering Professional. It is indeed the bedrock of Engineering and when practised in its strictest sense, produces results that keep the individual in top shape profitably and the society on the path of progress. Safety Engineering is a career I decided on right from my undergraduate days as a second-year student in the Chemical Engineering Department of University of Uyo.
How do you relax?
I make time out to be with my family on weekends on a home retreat; in physical and spiritual communion. I listen to old soul blues/jazz music, read novels occasionally and also take time out on marked intervals to go on holiday with my spouse.