The history of Occupational Safety and Health in Nigeria dates back to the slave trade era. Nigeria signed the Geneva Convention in 1981- 33 years ago. Surprisingly however, there is still this belief that Occupational Safety and Health practice in Nigeria is still at its infancy. Would you agree that a profession which has had its presence in a country for as much has been stated above is still at infancy?
Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) practitioners in Nigeria and many parts of Africa face the same challenge of legal enforcement (of health and safety at work). This is especially so within indigenous companies. This is made more difficult because of lack of vigorous and strict enforcement of available legislations. Experts have made it clear that regulations without proper enforcement are tantamount to no laws. Research has revealed that to comply with their parent company’s HSE Policies and to be able to do business internationally, multinationals take issues of health and safety more seriously than indigenous companies. The question is: Why is the Ministry of Labour and Productivity (Inspectorate Division) not able to carry out effective enforcement of Health and Safety Regulations in all industries in Nigeria?
From observation and data I have seen, the Government has not really shown the readiness to grow the practice of Occupational Safety and Health from this so called “infancy” stage to adulthood as it were. For example according to a Report of the National Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre (CIS), Geneva, Switzerland in 2006, Nigeria had 39 Labour Inspectors and these Inspectors are supposed to inspect 5,888 registered factories aside unregistered production companies.
Also in another report of the International Trade Union Congress for the WTO general council review of the trade policies of Nigeria (Geneva, 28 and 30 June, 2011), there were 550 labour inspectors in Nigeria who carried out 1,500 inspections in 2009. From these figures it is clear that the Ministry which has the primary responsibility to ensure that companies comply with Occupational Safety and Health regulations in Nigeria does not have the manpower capacity.
Apart from not having enough inspectors, there is also the question of whether the present inspectors have the needed training in occupational health and safety standards as is obtained internationally. I believe the Ministry of Labour and Productivity and other relevant agencies are not supposed to have problems with manpower to carry out workplace inspections. This is because in recent times there has been significant awareness about occupational safety and health among career seekers and many young people, both experienced and fresh graduates have been developing themselves in various aspect of Health, Safety and Environment.
For this reason, I am very convinced that if the Government is serious about getting more qualified hands to carry out factories inspection, they will get more than enough Occupational Health and Safety professionals.
Another thing that experts have identified as problem to effective enforcement of occupational safety and health regulations in Nigeria is corruption. For example I know of a Safety Officer who says he has been working in a company for the last one year and no regulatory and enforcement agency workers who visit for so called inspection have ever asked for him as the officer in charge of safety to check how well he was doing to help his company to comply with health and safety regulations.
When some inspectors from some Ministries visit, they have always stopped in a particular Managers Office to receive some inducements especially towards the end of the year. The Safety Officer further says he has never seen any Labour Inspector from the Ministry of Labour and Productivity.
In view of the above and many other factors experts have identified as causes for the poor occupational safety and health enforcement, it is vital for the Nigerian Ministry of Labour and Productivity and other relevant agencies to up their game with regards to ensuring that workers health are protected. They should support Safety Practitioners with data and other relevant information to help them assist their companies to comply with safety regulations.
A visit to some developed countries’ websites will give one a lot of information about occupational safety practice according to industry. But, for instance as I was writing this article I visited the Nigerian Ministry of Labour’s website and I could not get any information regarding what is happening about occupational safety in Nigeria. Safety practitioners in Nigeria cannot continue to rely on foreign information for their practice. Nigeria can do better than just enacting some occupational safety and health laws. We currently have the capacity to put the right things in place in terms manpower. But the Federal Government through the Ministry of Labour and Productivity must demonstrate the readiness and create the enabling environment.