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Pushing frontiers of occupational safety

By Collins Olayinka (Abuja)
17 September 2019   |   2:59 am
As the world of work becomes more sophisticated, so also is the degree of occupational danger workers are exposed to continues to increase. Indeed, the need for workers to be more careful in the workplace is also a message relevant stakeholders often pass to workers and their representatives.

Chief Executive of NSITF, Adebayo Somefun

As the world of work becomes more sophisticated, so also is the degree of occupational danger workers are exposed to continues to increase.

Indeed, the need for workers to be more careful in the workplace is also a message relevant stakeholders often pass to workers and their representatives. However, the need to be careful also began to lead to loss of productivity, which inherently hurt not only employers but also national economies.

In order to ensure that neither employer nor employee is hurt by occupational hazards and that employees work without inhibitions, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) came up with Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) that has three pillars, which are prevention as first step, followed by rehabilitation and compensation that are implemented in a comprehensive manner.

Speaking at the 2019 edition of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) and Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NSITF-NECA) Safe Workplace Intervention Project (SWIP) in Abuja, the Managing Director of NSITF, Adebayo Somefun explained that SWIP project is intended to minimise the rate of industrial accidents and promote a safe workplace.

The NSITF boss highlighted that the fund is engaging with various stakeholders and National Assembly to finalise the amendment of the NSITF Act CAP N88, LFN 2004 to meet international best practices.

He added: “The propose amendment would include among others survivors’ benefit, death grant, invalidity benefit or grant, disability benefit or grant, aged benefit or grant, unemployment benefit or grant, child-maternal benefit or grant, and such other benefits as may be approved from time to time by the Board.”

Somefun stressed that the NSITF’s Employees Compensation Scheme (ECS) did not only concern itself with the wellbeing of employees only, but also look out for the progress of employers.

“As an employer, you are assured of a well-managed health and safety scheme programme, to ensure prevention of workplace accidents and disability. The scheme also reimburses medical expenses incurred in the treatment of injured workers, which relieves employers of the heavy burden of solely taking care of injured workers. The fund also pays employers for allied care services – physical or vocational rehabilitation. Indeed, payment to the injured worker is made regularly without recourse to the employer.

“Where prevention activities fail, employers are reimbursed at the approved rates the healthcare claims, thus relieving employers of the heavy burden of solely taking care of injured workers. Through this prompt response to healthcare challenges in the workplace, the quality of life of employees is improved thereby having a positive impact on Nigeria’s economic indices. Employers would enjoy positive organisational reputation, not just from their stakeholders, but from industry players as well,” he explained.

Somefun said that a stable workforce thrives where industrial peace and harmony were promoted, towards economic development and enhanced Human Development Index (HDI).

He added: “A stable industrial environment will lead to a reduction of absenteeism thereby leading to enhanced productivity. Healthcare and insurance costs will equally reduce thus ensuring the availability of a pool of funds for reinvestment and expansion that will improve the overall balance sheet of the employer.

“The risks of possible fines and litigations are also minimised if not obliterated. A good environment will also lead to increase labour turnover and the cost of hiring and training replacement staff will significantly reduce while employers will have more funds for other operational activities.”

In order to avoid delay of processing claims, Somefun urged employers to report injury or death of employee within seven days with information that contains name and address of employee; the time and place of the disease, injury or death; the nature of the injury or alleged injury; the name and address of any Specialist or accredited medical practitioner who attended to the employee.

“Employers are expected to promptly notify the Fund as soon as any accident, death or disease of an employee occurs. This is to enable the Fund to carry out an objective investigation to identify the causes of the accident and to know exactly what, how and where to provide and apply intervention measures. Losing credible evidence due to delays in reporting accidents will result in the misapplication of any intervention measures by the Fund,” he explained.

The NSITF boss said all employers of labour in Nigeria were expected to provide a safe work environment and ensure strict adherence to OSH standards and train their staff on OSH application.

In his address at the occasion, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who lauded the Occupational Safety Health Management System Audit initiative, said the exercise has continued to be conducted in the most professional, transparent and objective manner.

He noted that the audit had contributed in no small measure towards the generation of a database on the state of occupational safety and health compliance in the country.

“Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems Audit has long been established as and remains a veritable tool that drives the contemporary towards a preventative safety and healthy culture. The incorporation of occupational safety and health audit as one of the key elements of the SWIP project is, therefore, highly commendable, and is expected to result to increased drive for effective accident and diseases prevention and control programmes in the workplaces which in effect, will translate to a rational control over disbursements from the pooled funds of the Employees’ Compensation Scheme (ECS).”

The minister also noted that the engagement of Inspectors of Factories of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in the conduct of the occupational safety and health workplace audit as well as inclusion of representatives of both management and workers’ unions in each of the audit teams had improved the credibility of the exercise, thereby, ensuring the promotion of compliance improvement of occupational safety and health performance levels across industrial sectors.

Ngige also submitted that annual recognition of employers that prioritise safety in their premises had continued to serve as a platform not only for interaction between the contributing employers and the NSITF for improved trust, but also to share ideas and experiences.

He added: “As the yearly awards entails the reward of Occupational Safety and Health complaint companies through presentations of gifts and plaques, it is considered a right step in the right direction as it will engender sustained compliance with Occupational Safety and Health standards and best practices.”

For the minister, the SWIP yearly award is a step in the right direction, saying the challenges and gaps noticed in the process had been noted for greater improvement in the nearest future.

On his part, the Director-General of NECA, Timothy Olawale, said the essence of the SWIP project was to ensure that the culture of safety in the workplace was inculcated in the employers and also empower them on how to deepen the standard where the culture already exists.

He said: “We are also out to encourage those that are yet to embrace the standard of safety to come in to ensure safety in the workplace.”

He said that the SWIP programme had been impactful, adding, “we have a situation where year-on-year, many companies aspire to be beneficiaries of the infrastructure or bag an award because they know that after the audit they may likely be rewarded in a way or the other. So, it is a reward for good safety practice.

“We discovered over the years since 2011 when the scheme stated that the private sector has become a major contributor to the fund even beyond the public sector. So, compliance in the private sector has been growing healthily.”

On the possibilities of meting out sanctions against employers that are not complying with the ECS, Olawale noted: “NSITF is already meting out some forms of sanction or the other to discourage non-compliance. Of course, sanctions are already being meted out. Those who are not complying have been made to pay penalties. Because we have a good relationship with the NSITF, we encourage voluntary compliance. We usually appeal to our members that making a contribution and ensuring good safety in the workplace is better than being stampeded by the NSITF.”

He stressed that the lessons learned, especially for employers, was the imperative of operating in a safe workplace.

“While that stresses the importance of prevention is better than cure, safety in the workplace ensures the growth of productivity, which is in the best interest of employers. Safety of the workplace makes employees happy and that translates to harmonious and peaceful industrial environment,” he stated.