13th March, 2012
Safety is the state or condition of being protected against physical, social, spiritual, financial, political, emotional, occupational, psychological, or any other event which could be considered nonedesirable.. Occupational safety is concerned with risks in areas where people work: offices, manufacturing plants, farms, construction sites, and commercial and retail facilities. Public safety is concerned with hazards in the home, in travel and recreation, and in other situations that do not fall within the scope of occupational safety. Safety practices are, therefore, the activities and measures that seek to minimize or to eliminate hazardous conditions that can cause bodily injury or/and death.
Despite Nigeria being a country where essential and accurate statistics is hard to come by, one cannot but notice the countless numbers of untimely but avoidable deaths and bodily injuries that has plagued our society over the years. Just last month, the media was awash with the report of the killing of a 21 year old worker, Happiness Okon, by a plastic moulding machine while working in a factory in Lagos. The report indicated that Okon was killed simply because the factory fell short of stipulated safety standards and regulations. Just last week, a technician was also reported killed in Ogba, Lagos while trying to fix a satellite dish on a two story building. Doctor’s report showed that the man would probably have survived the fall and lived if he had worn a safety helmet. It will be sadly recalled that over a hundred people were killed in an inferno that rocked another factory in Odogunyan, Ikorodu in 2003. The report of a panel of inquiry that investigated the incident also concluded that the disaster could have also been avoided if the management of the company involved had strictly adhered to laid down industrial safety rules and regulations.
International Labour Organization, (ILO) estimates that 337 million workplace accidents and 2.3 million deaths occur every year, averaging 6,300 deaths per day, across the globe, including Nigeria. An average of 200 cases of industrial accidents occurs in Nigeria daily with an equally high rate of fatalities. No fewer than 400 workers have lost their lives in the power sector in the last two years while performing their official duties. In the maritime sector, since the concessioning of the ports, over 100 cases of fatal industrial accidents, ten deaths, numerous incapacitations and innumerable serious body injuries have occurred. Prof. Sola Fajana of the University of Lagos, an expert in Labour and Human Resource Management, in a paper titled ‘Safety at work: Issues and challenges’, disclosed that at least 50 million Nigerians are at risk of occupational hazards. This group includes about 3.2 million including children who are involved in economic activities, even as abused participants in the labour market.
Nigeria is ranked 191 out of 192 countries in the world with unsafe roads with 162 deaths per 100,000 from road traffic accidents. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, over 1.3 million people are killed annually in road accidents while over 50 million people sustain different degrees of injuries from such crashes. It is only in Nigeria that people commute on top of fast moving trains, use power generating sets indoor and Okada riders as well as passengers resist the regulation to wear crash helmets. Such a suicidal mission! Fire suppression equipment, where available, are either obsolete or unserviceable. Banks across the country install metal detecting cubicles at their entrances without adequate provision for alternative fire exit in case of emergency. Fire exits in most public and commercial buildings have been converted to storage rooms. Some of the vehicles on our highways are actually accidents in waiting and we have continued to carry on unperturbed! What a country! What a people!
The ‘Not My Portion or God forbid’ Syndrome is the bane of developing an attitudinal change framework for achieving a safer society in Nigeria. Some people, out of ignorance, still harbour the cultural belief that to make provisions for the prevention of hazards is to actually invite the occurrence of such misfortune. The issue of safety and health at workplace which once occupy a major place in the programme and plan of employers is now treated with levity. Within the context of Nigeria organisational plan, the issues of safety are now considered nonessential in operational plans because it is viewed as consequential to profit margin and thus overhead cost resulting from provisions for safety is grossly cut down. This is one of the main reasons why our responses to catastrophes in this clime are usually reactive. The fire-brigade approach of rushing out to quench fire all the time, rather than figure out how to put in place measures to prevent fire outbreaks is a direct manifestation of our nationalistic tendencies for lack of prescience. We have refused to accept that safety simply means being pro-active.
However, the cost of unsafe practices is obviously enormous. Accidents result in pains and deaths to victims, waste of time, money and materials and damage to equipment and structures. Consequently, it is extremely necessary to prevent accidents in all our activities. Its impact on our socio-economic life is immeasurable. For instance, the huge resources being channelled to the health sector will be a mere waste if our people continue to be maimed and killed like fowls. There will also continue to be pressure on our already inadequate health facilities as a result of more patients requiring attention for surgical emergencies.
As accidents has been confirmed as the no two killer in Nigeria (after Malaria) it has become imperative for all the stakeholders in the safety concerns in the country to go back to the drawing board in an attempt to nip in the bud these untimely deaths and incapacitations.
It is the primary responsibility of governments to ensure safety of life and properties of its citizenry and it has therefore become urgent for governments at all levels to create and strengthen existing safety laws with a view to achieving a safer society. Those who breach the laws must be brought to book and should also be made to adequately compensate the victims. The National Industrial Safety Council of Nigeria set by the Federal Government must begin to live up to its responsibility of preventing Industrial accidents and hazards and promote occupational health and welfare in industrial establishments.
As it is obvious that the issue of accidents in Nigeria goes beyond our roads, the Federal Government must also look beyond the creation of a Federal Roads Safety Commission as a panacea to safety troubles in the country by sponsoring a bill to the National Assembly that will mandate all the states of the federation to establish a safety commission. This is the sure way to guarantee the adequate regulation of safety practices in the nooks and cranny of the country. The Lagos State Government initiative in establishing a Safety Commission for the state since 2010 in this regard is therefore laudable. The Commission has since its establishment, been at forefront of creating awareness on the dangers of unsafe practices in the state. Its role in dealing with the killing of Okon in January this year is also worth mentioning.
On a final note, it is very important to also mention that legal approaches alone cannot effectively solve the problem of avoidable accidents in Nigeria, there is the need for aggressive for public enlightenment at all levels on the benefits of a properly-managed safety culture based on tested principles of safe practices that will produce citizens who participate actively in teaching, identify and alert one another and the authorities to potential hazards, developing and suggesting effective control measures and feel a sense of responsibility for their safety and safety of others.
•Ogunmosunle is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.