Accidents waiting to happen

The tragic deaths of two workers in factory-related accidents in Lagos State recently are another sobering reminder of the urgent need for regulatory authorities to properly address the vexed issue of occupational safety and health.

In one case, Mr.  Sunday Usenobong fell into the crucible of an iron and steel manufacturing concern situated in Ikorodu. Given that crucibles are the receptacles for melting metal and can reach extremely high temperatures, it is no surprise that he died instantly. In the other case, a moulding machine operator, Mr.  Femi Olatunde, had his head trapped in the machine he was operating. He also died on the spot.

Both cases reveal a toxic mix of inadequate training, the lack of protective clothing, the absence of safety procedure, the failure to institute and implement workplace safety measures, and an overall dearth of a safety culture.

How was it possible that the late Mr. Usenobong was working so close to a superheated crucible which apparently did not have any safety barriers? Was he dressed in appropriate clothing, including a helmet and non-slip boots? Was there any signage providing clear warning to workers of safe distances from the crucible, or emergency alarms which would go off the moment safety measures were breached?

Similar questions can be posed for the late Mr. Olatunde as well. Why was he so close to the moulding machine as to get his head trapped in it? Was he wearing safety apparel and protective gear? Were there no warning signs to alert workers about getting too close to the machinery? Had he received proper training and orientation when he was first employed by the company?

Read Also: Adebule advocates healthy workplace at Lagos Safety Summit

 

It is impossible to separate the extremely poor safety regimen in many companies operating in Nigeria from the nature of their ownership. Far too many firms are run by Nigerians and foreigners with very little concern for the welfare of their hapless workers. Stories abound of factory workers who have been killed or maimed due to the heartlessness and negligence of those who were supposed to be supervising them.

They have been locked in factories and left to burn to death while their managers enjoyed a night on the town. They have been compelled to work in dangerous conditions without proper safety procedures and clothing. They have been left to their own devices after suffering serious injury at work. They have been harassed and threatened into not complaining to the authorities.

Matters have been worsened by the abject failure of the regulatory agencies to properly police derelict businesses and ensure that they meet all laid-down standards. Companies are not often subject to the regular spot checks which would reveal their shortcomings. Worker complaints are not taken up with sufficient seriousness, even when it is obvious that there is a serious problem. Mandatory training and orientation procedures are rarely insisted upon by these agencies as part of the process of employing workers.

This cannot continue. A comprehensive survey of all manufacturing concerns in Lagos must be carried out with a view to ensuring that they are all inspected and compelled to meet established occupational and health safety standards. Effective reporting systems must be set up to facilitate the communication of workplace anomalies by members of staff. Where the culpability of supervisors and management is established, the full force of the law must be brought to bear, including compensation, fines and prosecution. Members of regulatory agencies found to collude with negligent companies must be sanctioned.

Nigeria can no longer be a country where citizens must risk life and limb in order to earn a living.

 

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