- Written by Chukwuka Igbokwe
PART 3 – WAYS FORWARD
1. Comprehensive Occupational Safety and Health Legislation and Regulations
Given the dysfunctional national occupational safety and health setup, imagine the number of industrial fatalities, disabilities and ill health/disease cases occurring everyday including potential dangerous occurrence waiting to manifest if required actions are not taken. One of the required actions has been taken – passing Occupational Safety and Health Bill in 2012. But the ultimate presidential assent is still pending which still leaves us in the dark. There have been monumental losses incurred over the years and it is time we enforced proper occupational safety and health management in workplaces – A robust legislation to secure not only the safety, health and welfare of all persons at work but other persons who may be at risk as a result of activities at work.
Unlike the Factories Act that imposes a fine not exceeding N1,000 (one thousand naira) on a company that fails to report a fatal accident, under the new bill an employer that fails to submit report of any accident, near miss, dangerous occurrence or occupational diseases to the NCOSH commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not exceeding 3 years or to a fine not less than N1 million or to both imprisonment and fine. Also the bill provides for the imprisonment for a term not less than 3 years or a fine not less than N5 million or both when any person is killed or suffers severe bodily injury resulting from a contravention by an employer of any of the bill’s provisions. This is more likely to serve as deterrent for not putting adequate safety systems in place and non-reporting/investigation of industrial accidents, thereby improving safety accountability and compliance in the Nigerian labour industry.
Employers that currently have well-established occupational safety and health programmes are either in the oil and gas sector or are obligated to have them as a result of their business relationship with international companies or trade bodies, and then tag it as “best practice” or “industry standards”. It is less likely that they setup safety systems to comply with legal requirements, and it is usually difficult for most safety professionals to make a business case for increased budget on workplace safety.
A business case for improvement in workplace safety and health is principally built around the importance of safety –moral/humanity reasons, legal reasons and cost. Safety and health regulations can improve the value of these justifications to organizations/employers especially legal and cost implications of not putting adequate safety and health programmes in place. At least, if not for moral/humanitarian reasons (which should be the core justification anyway), the legal and cost implications amounting to millions of naira should compel employers to invest in protecting their employees (which is always cheaper and more convenient). A comprehensive occupational safety and health legislation and regulations with appropriate consequence management would be a core basis (key business case) for improved occupational safety and health management in workplaces.
In discussing the way forward, it would be worthy to mention that the Lagos State Government has taken the lead to establish a safety commission (Lagos State Safety Commission) to regulate not only occupational safety, but also public safety, food safety etc. other States can follow suit with similar framework to complement the proposed national Occupational Safety and Health legislation in their respective states. When the Occupational Safety and Health Bill is signed into law and NCOSH established, employers would be required to comply with national safety and health provisions as well as the state’s provisions, if any.
2. Recognize the Building Blocks of a Sound National Safety and Health Management
The establishment of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) alone may not guarantee a robust National Occupational Safety and Health management. For the intents and objectives of the Occupational Safety and Health bill to be fully realized, we need to recognize the 5 building blocks of an effective National Occupational Safety and Health management and their unique roles:
a) National Regulatory Body
b) National Research Institute
c) National Qualification & Certification Board
d) National Professional Body
e) Standards Organization, Trade Bodies & Other Government Agencies
The first and most important building block is a National Regulatory Body that will be charged with the formulation and enforcement of occupational safety and health regulations. Supporting the regulatory body, would be a National Research Institute that would play an advisory role in providing relevant data on which occupational safety and health standards would be developed. The establishment of these bodies has been provided for in the new bill, but what of competency assurance in occupational safety and health? How do we build and assure local professional capacity to drive safety and health improvements in our workplaces?
This brings me to the third building block - National Qualification & Certification Board which should be established for competency management among existing and prospecting safety professionals. The board should be responsible for developing qualifications curriculum/blue prints and conducting qualification examinations in occupational safety and health, food safety, public safety and health, transportation safety etc. The board can also handle certification of professionals after they most have met some experience and qualification requirements. The National Professional Body is another building block that should ensure professionalism in occupational safety and health practice and also serve as a vehicle for safety advocacy. In Nigeria, it seems the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPoN) was established to serve as both a National Qualification & Certification Board and a National Professional Body, which I do not agree with completely. These two functions (qualifications/certification management and professional recognition/development) should be handled by separate bodies for an accelerated development in national safety and health management.
ISPoN falls under the fourth building block - National Professional Body which should ideally be responsible for recognizing safety professionals based on their level of safety and health qualifications, facilitating continuous professional development and serve as the umbrella body for the safety profession. Even in the legal instrument establishing ISPoN and the Occupational Safety and Health Bill passed in2012, it is not clear on how national qualifications and certifications in occupational safety and health would be managed. The focus areas in the ISPoN act are on approving and conducting professional trainings for safety professionals and to regulate practice. This is an indication of not recognizing these building blocks and their distinct functional roles in national safety and health management. If we really want to take occupational safety and health seriously and achieve the objectivesof the proposed legislation, there has to be a separate National Qualification & Certification Board that would be saddled with administering professional examinations and certifying successful candidates as done in other parts of the world where safety and health is a core national value. The National Professional Body - ISPoN can then grade members based on the qualifications obtained and continuewith professional trainings alongside other professional development activities and advocacy programmes, but administration of professional examinations and certifications is ideal for an independent National Qualification & Certification Board.
Alternatively, ISPoN can handle certification of professionals while a National Qualifications Board is established to oversee only qualifications management in health and safety.With this option, professionals can be certified by ISPoN after having requisite experience and qualifications in health and safety. At least with this, we can have recognized local health and safetyqualifications(occupational safety and health, food safety, public safety and health etc)which can also be recognized or converted outside the country and vise versa through appropriate reciprocal agreements/arrangements with counterpart qualification and certification bodies. This can significantly reduce our foreign exchange in seeking external professional qualifications.
Standards Organization, Trade Bodies & Other Government Agencies can also play important role in realizing an effective national occupational safety and health management. The National Research Institute and National Professional Bodycan collaborate with them in developing non-regulatory guidelines, standards, recommended practices, notices etc on safety and health management in different trades/industries. With this, I mean seeing, for example, NIOSH and ISPoN collaborating with Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), Federation of Construction Industry in Nigeria (FOCI) to develop guidelines and standards on construction safety. Another example is seeing Federal Ministry of Works, FRSC and ISPoN developing safety standards for road construction/maintenance work. Also, SON and NAFDAC can collaborate with ISPoN to develop standards on food safety.
3. Exploit the Economic Opportunities of Effective Occupational Health and Safety Regulation in Nigeria
From an economic perspective, if the Government truly wants to diversify the Nigerian economy, the Occupational Safety and Health Bill 2012 should be signed into law establishing NCOSH to regulate Occupational Safety and Health in Nigeria. We do not need a rocket scientist to tell us that fixing our problems (i.e. setting up proper legislations, regulations and processes to address key national issues) will create new markets in the service sector, increase gross domestic products and ultimately generate more employment opportunities. This is exactly what the Occupational Safety and Health legislation and other regulatory processes would do to the Nigerian economy – create new frontiers in occupational safety and health services, generate employment opportunities and increase revenue for the Government through paid services, taxes and fines.From the provisions in the new bill, the NCOSH would require enormous skilled workforce to carry on the tasks of inspecting/auditing, registering and monitoring all workplaces in the country. Imagine every workplace in Nigeria mobilizing resources in order to comply with the new legislation.
The increased legal occupational safety and health obligations on employers would see organizations seeking occupational safety and health management services and solutions, raising budget on occupational safety and health management. This would increase the market size of occupational safety and health services in the country. The expanded size of this market would in turn drive the expansion of existing occupational safety and health service providers and new providers with associated value chain would emerge. Again, we do not need a prophet to tell us that these would create employment opportunities for not just the safety and health profession, but also other professions that would be involved in the new value chains. This development would also create new career interest for young Nigerians and our tertiary institutions would then offer diplomas and degree progrommes in occupational safety and health management – the value chain is limitless. This is where the National Qualification & Certification Board or the National Professional Body would now come in to accredit these occupational safety and health programmes and ensure that adequate professional capacity is in place to grow and sustain the occupational safety and health services industry as seen in other parts of the world.
We cannot continue to expose our workers to the obvious unmitigated occupational risks while there are clear actions that can be taken by both the government and other stakeholders to reduce these exposures. Legislative/regulatory inadequacies, poor enforcement, lack of political will and deficient national setup in occupational health and safety have stunted our national growth in many ways. It is therefore rational that the assent of the Occupational Safety and Health Bill 2012 together with the setup and integration of all the building blocks of a National occupational safety and health management would be a win-win for all stakeholders – protect every worker from dangers and at the same time create endless economic opportunities for the country. We should thus seize the opportunities highlighted in this literature to develop local capacity and reduce dependency on foreign resources in revolutionizing workplace health and safety management in Nigeria.
Chukwuka Igbokwe is an experienced health and safety professional with gold-standard academic andprofessional qualifications/recognitions.
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