The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its 2021 publication estimates that 2.78 million lives are lost per year due to an occupational and work-related illness. There are also 374 million non-fatal work-related injuries every year. Productive manpower hours are wasted due to workplace hazards, estimated at 3.94 percent of the gross Domestic Product each year.2
A 2006 report by the International Labour Organisation showed that far more people die prematurely from work-related sicknesses. One hundred thousand workers die due to work-place accidents in the construction sector alone every year. These hazards are well known and completely preventable. The reason they keep recurring is because of the failure to manage risk and deliberate negligence on the part of the employers.3
While there are laws that protect workers from hazardous work environment, enforcement is hardly pursued and as a result persecution for negligence hardly occurs. Bakker (2007) opines that the crux of this matter is government's passive attitude towards employers who do not regard health and safety laws, even when such negligence leads to the demise of an employee.4 It has been observed that some foreign nationals operating in Nigeria are culpable of operating unsafe work environments which have led to loss of lives and limbs. Worse still, they are hardly adequately compensated for these injuries or fatalities. The Nigeria Ministry of Labour and productivity, the government regulator that should handle this, is not doing enough to check some of these unwholesome practices.
The Bureau of Labour statistics, United States Labour department (2014)5 states that, an averageuman being spends one-third of his life at the workplace. This is higher in developing countries where many of its workforce are in the informal sector and engaged in low paying jobs. Given that people spend the bulk of their productive hours at work, it become imperative that the working environment must be safety and health conscious, so that the workers can be healthy in order for them to make necessary contributions to the world economy (Olurinola, Fadayomi, Amoo, Ola- David 2014).6
The aim of this article is to suggest ways for employees to protect themselves at the workplace and recommendw employers can make the workplace healthier and safe for their workers. It will also state the role government can play in ensuring that employers follow through in having a safe and healthy workplace.
2. Occupational Health and Safety issues in Nigeria.
Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that the work environment is less hazardous to operate in. It has been noticed in many nations, that the level of safety attained in a work environment is a function of the level of investment employees and employers are willing invest, and this is made enforceable through government policies that ensures everyone plays their roles properly. (Olurinola, Fadayomi, Amoo, Ola- David 2014).6
Unfortunately, same cannot be said for Nigeria as many employers are only interested in making profit at the expense of workplace safety, which is regarded as an expensive and avoidable undertaking. Government institutions that are supposed to checkmate these malpractices and ensure strict compliance to work environmental safety policies are ineffective and corrupt (Idubor & Osiamoje 2013).7 Interestingly, employees are also culpable in engaging in unsafe work practices for different reasons.
Nigeria has legislations regarding safety and health in the work environment, however, lack of implementation and persecution for negligence is rife. For example, one of the provisions of the Factory Act states that, workersust not be engaged in tasks that could lead to injuries, or be exposed to products that are hazardous such as dangerous liquids and fumes, explosives and inflammable dusts, gases, vapors etc. Such workers should obtain special training and work under the supervision of a supervisor who has particularly good knowledge and experience handling such hazardous equipment.8
Section 47 of the Factory Act makes it compulsory for employers to provide free personal protective gear to the employees.
There is a national policy on occupational safety and health developed in 2006, aimed at facilitating the enhancement of occupational safety and health performance in all sectors of the economy and ensuring that employees rights protection is consistent with regional and international standards.9 The policy led to the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Department whose primary objective is ensuring the safety and health of workers in Nigeria. Some of its functions include monitoring compliance with the national occupational safety and health policies, inspection of workspaces, provision of safety and health training, creating awareness of occupational safety and health through campaigns. They also collect and distribute data on health and safety, while also formulating and implementing review of regulations, codes of practice, guidelines for safety and health work etc.
These functions though laudable are theoretical at best and lack proper implementation modalities. The laws are insignificant and do not cater for recent realities. Okojie (2010) and Idubor & Osiamoje (2013) opined that the penalties in the Occupational Safety and Health laws are not weighty, therefore offenders are not daunted by them. Some of the laws are ancient and are no longer relevant. For instance, there are no legislation stating the minimum distance of some factories or workplace that generate hazardous waste to residential places. Where there is legislation as regards using protective gears, there are no consequences for those not complying with the use of protective gears.10 Another omission is the absence of legislation that caters to the mental and emotional health of workers.
Nnedinma, Boniface, Keith, & Nano (2014) argued that in order to increase profit, some employers treat workers safety with levity, and they do not make personal protective equipment available and do not care about the impact of their work activities on the environment.11
In a deeply religious country like Nigeria, some people believe that accidents are acts of God and their lives are protected by God alone and are therefore not inclined to address non-compliance with safety regulations in the workplace or to pursue remedial action for such non-compliance (Idubor and Osiamoje 2013).12
Firstly, the occupational health and safety laws should be updated to incorporate current realities especially, regarding mental and emotional health.
Secondly, more campaigns should be embarked upon by the occupational and safety health department, so that employers and employees are regularly apprised of the right practices that need to be put in place as a matter of course.
Furthermore, business owners should invest in training their workers on how to protect themselves in the work environment and reduce their exposure to hazards, while also putting safety and health policies in place and enforcing them.
Lastly, laws are useless if they are not enforced. The health and safety regulations currently available should be enforced, and employers who disregard these regulations should be brought to book. The government can make it possible for employees to report violations anonymously to curtail flagrant disobedience to health and safety laws by some employers.
1. Temitope Fadare, Personal Assistant to the Managing Partner, SPA Ajibade & Co., Lagos, NIGERIA.
2. International Labor Organisation (2021). Safety and Health at Work, available: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/safety-and-health-at-work/lang-en/index.htm. Last accessed 10th May 2021.
3. ILO: HIV/AIDS and work: Global estimates, impact and response, Geneva, 2006, pp. 11-12, available at: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/-ed_protect/-protrav/-ilo_aids/documents/publication/wcms_116379.pdf accessed 4th August 2021.
4. Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., (2007). "The job demands-resources model: State of the art", Journal of managerial psychology. 22(3): 309-328.
6. See generally, Olurinola, I. O., Fadayomi, T., Amoo, E. O., & Ola-David, O., (2014), "Occupational Health and Safety among Street Traders in Nigeria", International Journal of Economics and Finance. Vol. 6, No. 4.
7. Idubor, E. E., & Oisamoje, M. D. (2013), "An Exploration of Health and Safety Management Issues in Nigeria's Efforts to industrialize", European Scientific Journal. Vol. 9, (12), pp 154-169.
8. Factory Act S7-50 (Cap F1 LFN 2004).
9. Nigeria Ministry of Labour and Productivity (2016) (Nigeria Country profile on Occupation Safety and Health 2016) pp 23-24https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/-africa/-ro-abidjan/-ilo-abuja/documents/publication/wcms_552748.pdf
10. Okojie, O. (2010), "System for Reporting Occupational Diseases in Nigeria", African Newsletter on Occupational Health and Safety. Vol. 20 (3), pp 51-53.
11. Nnedinma, U., Boniface, U., Keith, J., & Nano, M. (2014), "Compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Regulations: A Review of Nigeria's Construction Industry", Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Infrastructure Development in Africa - Abeokuta, Nigeria, 17th-19th March 2014.
12. Idubor, E. E., & Oisamoje, M. D. (2013), "An Exploration of Health and Safety Management Issues in Nigeria's Efforts to industrialize", European Scientific Journal. Vol. 9, (12), pp 154-169.
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