In one of my training sessions recently, a participant asked a question which is the reason why I am writing this article. He wanted to know why safety is relegated to the background in Nigeria. I decided to probe to know the basis for his question and at the end; I was not too surprised because his work experiences portrayed his fears. This particular participant had worked in places where the only thing that mattered was production – I mean output figures.
It does not really matter how you do the job, just show the result or you are history. There is no idea, document, structure or process in place to ensure the health and safety of the workers. You may kill yourself if you choose, just be productive anyhow seemed to be the unwritten work procedures.
In the course of discussion in the class, another participant cited an experience he had many years ago, where a worker got injured and was told by the management that he has been paid for the accidents. How? His salaries! And that was the turining point in his life. He has to make a change in whatever capacity possible or he will also receive same reward shortly! 'If something is wrong, it will always go wrong.'
It’s not news that workplace safety is a relatively new concept in this part of the world. Prior to now, professing to be a safety professional in Nigeria to your parents or family is akin to joblessness when you can be a doctor, engineer, banker, teacher, etc. I have personally experienced this and I am sure others in this field will attest to this. This does not mean that there are no safety professionals and organizations in the country that preach and practice safety. In fact, there are regulations in the country that have been written to promote the health and safety of workers in the country. How effective and relevant are these regulations is a question for discussion some other time. Be that as it may, the number of such organizations is almost insignificant compared to the population of the country’s labour force.
In the forefront of this crusade are the oil and gas companies, of course some of whom still fall short of the acceptable and international standards. Other sectors of the economy such as construction, manufacturing, agro-allied, banking and others are trailing behind in issues of HSE.
Occupational health, safety and environment issues are gradually gaining recognition in the country, especially with some notable accidents and disasters that the country has witnessed in the recent times. Organisations are becoming more aware about their responsibilities to ensure that their workers are well protected from the inherent hazards they face while working due to compensations and sometimes violent confrontations and protests that they receive when accidents occur and workers loose their lives. In the same vein, workers are beginning to realize that it is possible to work and stay alive. 'After all, work does not mean death.' It only leads to it when control measures are not in place.
The need to obey simple safety rules and regulations is now, more than ever before, obvious and real considering many hazards which are part of the production or work processes, if not created by the task being performed itself. Of course, technological advancements and breakthroughs have made living interesting and comfortable, but they have also increased the risks of injuries through accidents which occur as a result of exposures to various hazards.
There is a great need for a comprehensive orientation and awareness crusades for Nigeria workers to work safely and demand of their employers, the right to work and go back home in one piece. It's a right! This crusade involves all and sundry and we must all stand up for a safe Nigeria. A safe workplace and environment where there is values for life. The days of ignorance are definitely over. It starts from and with you and I.
I can hear someone say but it’s the government responsibility! Yes. You are right! Government has a responsibility to play; but you have the greatest and most primary responsibility to stay alive. You have a responsibility to work and remain alive - Obey safety rules and regulations, follow safe work procedures and wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)! These are some of your responsibilities. It’s a choice and decision that you have to make and of course NOW!
Work safely! Stay alive! Remember, Nigeria needs you – either NOW or LATER!