‘We need structured solutions to manage critical health, safety issues’
Jamiu Badmos is a business sustainability executive and an enterprise risk management professional. The Executive Director, Strategy, Safety Advocacy and Empowerment Foundation is also a certified IRCA Lead Auditor, making him one of the 11 internationally Certified Management System Auditors in Nigeria.
As a registered engineer, he is a fellow of seven leading professional bodies and has contributed passionately to the occupational health and safety drive in Nigeria. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, he speaks on the essence of initiating proactive measures to deal with workplace health and safety hazards.
What really endeared you to occupational health and safety?
ALL my days from secondary school to university, I have always been fighting for humanity with respect to making people be active; engaging them and helping them demand their human rights. Generally, I love to make life easy for people.
I eventually got into the university to study Agricultural Engineering and graduated as an Agricultural Engineer with specialisation in Environmental Engineering. But I started my career in environmental systems with a company based in Lagos, where I learnt about oil and gas. And since I have been always passionate about humanity while I seek ways to add value to humanity, I took this as a challenge to ensure the safety of the people, lives and properties. That is how my journey into the world of safety started. So, what I do now is to think of ways to mobilise people, to keep them happy, engaged and make people live their lives following the rhythm of humanity.
How crucial is safety at the workplace, especially at these changing times? If you want us to limit it to Nigeria with respect to our statistics and the pandemic, I can humbly say that the COVID-19 has really assisted in bringing occupational health and safety to the forefront because if you look at Nigeria as a country, we are more of a reactive people; from the government to the people and all concerned citizens. This is because when there is an accident, we make so much noise when something happens, but after a while, we move on with our lives.
If we want to really face health and safety head-on, one of the first approaches is for one to be proactive; to have passion for life and in the management of health and safety. This is what helps us avert all unseen incidents. We see how accidents happen on the road and at the workplace. People should know that when it comes to workplace safety, it is not applicable to only an office setting; even the roadside food vendor is a workplace.
On the road, a road safety officer is at their work place. We see these officers faint or collapse while ensuring that they make the road safe for people. We have seen people lose their lives on these same roads as well. So, we are being a reactive set of people, instead of being proactive. And for you to make safety a way of life, for it to be in your DNA and for it to be your lifestyle, you must be proactive and you must have safety embedded in your culture.
Our old culture of being reactive cannot work. COVID-19 came and made a lot of people improve on their hygiene, which is also part of health and safety. It made a lot of people know that there is the need to wash your hands, and that there’s also the need to be safe if not, one could lose their life. So, we need to move as a country. We have been lagging behind, but we have seen some moves being displayed by the National House of Representatives, by Ibrahim Hamza, and Sam Chinedu Onwuazo of the committee on safety standards. The way they spoke at the last Institute of Safety Professionals Of Nigeria (ISPON) summit shed light on the importance of what safety is. I also believe that the association and the executive arm of government need to emulate this culture as well so that Nigerians will be in good hands.
What is your opinion on the appreciation of occupational health and safety in Nigeria?
I will take it in a very holistic manner, starting from the standards that govern health and safety, that is ISO 5001, 2015, which was released on March 12, 2015. Some of these standards include the standard under clause five titled, Leadership and Workers Participation. Standard 5.1 of the same clause also talks about leadership and commitment. There is no way in this world or in Nigeria that occupational health and safety will be made to work without leadership commitment, and this is clearly stated in Vision Zero, which was launched in Singapore in 2017. It talks about demonstrating leadership and commitment, which is very important today.
To begin with, a lot of our leaders don’t even understand what occupational health and safety really means. They group it under the ministry of health, but it is in the ministry of labour and employment in Nigeria. When you have a policy, it should be driven by action, because it is just a statement of decisions. The biggest of all the laws is the Factory Act, of which every one of us has been pleading for the Federal Government to repeal and make Occupational Safety and Health Act so that it will be in tune with our modality. The Factory Act has been in use since 2004 and so, it didn’t cover a lot of things that we are supposed to do.
When you hear Factory Act, what first comes to your mind is that it is for manufacturing companies, but it is for every one of us, including offices. So, the Federal Government needs to enhance their leadership and commitment and follow up with ILO conventions, which Nigeria is a part of. We have been told that the act is going to be an Executive Bill. The executive should take charge of this because the legislative arm has done their best to patch this, but they’re not achieving results.
About two or three years ago, all the leaders of NCDC were invited to the Senate and during the discussion, a man fainted; whether the incident was fake or not, as a professional, what I’m looking at is how to ensure his safety first. But the whole National Assembly didn’t even know what to do to resuscitate the man. Basic knowledge of CPR and understanding of first aid would have been enough to revive him. So, when you look at our leaders at the highest level — the executive, judiciary and legislative arm of government— how many of them have Automated External Defibrillator (AED) installed in their offices or in the congress of the national assembly? If a senator faints, how do you revive him? Are the staff present at the Senate or the staff of the executive at Aso rock trained for situations like that? They don’t understand what health and safety really are. They don’t know what to do or how to manage a situation if a fire breaks out, so they have to wait for the fire service.
At the top level in Nigeria, the commitment to health and safety in action and tactics is not there. Is there any law in Nigeria that can be used for safety in the situation of building collapse in Nigeria? But when it happens, you see everybody making noise about it.
The labour unions and their leaders are other aspects because the unions are the leaders of the people. How many times have you seen the unions in Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) fighting for the welfare of the people with respect to occupational health and safety? All they fight for is salary increment, which is very good and is, in fact, part of welfare. But you need to know that companies can pay salaries, but only safety will take you home. If you’re given a salary and your safety is not guaranteed, there’s no point in fighting for it. People die in factories, and all that is done is that the factories will be shut down for a while. After that, it is opened for business again. So, if there are laws such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act that simplify the safety of the National Council, and if each state has safety organisations, not just in Lagos, it will be good for the country.
The unions as well need to change their agitations to three critical things: Health, Safety and Wellbeing. If they monitor this, lots of staff and employees will not die young. Employers will be held accountable and responsible for the safety of their employees, because people fear and respect unions. So, the NLC and all their affiliates need to start talking about the welfare, safety and wellbeing of the people as stated by Vision Zero. The employers as well need to know that first of all, health and safety has an impact on the profitability of their organisation.
Also, our leaders and employers need to start thinking in the area of empathy towards their staff. Just like Paul O’Neill said, we should all try and make safety a value. Salus populi suprema lex esto – Let the welfare of the people be the final law. We should also focus on the three Ps – People, Planet and Profit. The people are your staff, customers, stakeholders and interested party. When the people are happy and motivated, they can make impossible things possible. When this happens, there will be reduction in degradation of the planet, and then profit will come.
In this era of social media, the reputation of a company can be brought to dust by simply posting online. So, we need to create more awareness by the NGOs for health and safety. International bodies and the ISPON should take up roles in promoting health and safety and work together with the various governments as well as their labour leaders to see how we can save more lives.
What are the challenges that have mitigated occupational health and safety in Nigeria?
A lot of challenges; I stated one previously about awareness on what professional health and safety means and what it can do for the economy of a company or nation, especially to its financial health. There are companies that have good CEO’s and good boards of directors. These companies listen and they understand safety for the purpose of sustainability, as opposed to other government companies and functions that don’t understand it.
Imagine in the whole of Nigeria, we have only one operational safety commission, which is the Lagos Safety Commission. Many others have tried to set up as well, but they haven’t concluded till now, only Lagos has. So, this shows that only Lagos State leaders have the passion for saving lives and that they want to change the lifestyle and culture of the people in relation to health and safety. Awareness creation is very important, because there are many accidents that threaten lives. Today, it might be a market bombing, next might be tanker driver accidents, explosions, and many others. These are all health and safety-critical issues, so we need to put structured solutions in place to be able to manage them.
Have you ever thought about the Otedola Bridge incident, and how many accidents have happened there, on the same road? Why is this reoccurring? When you see things like that, you have to ask questions. Have they identified the root of that problem? One of the things we see now in Nigeria is, when accidents happen, you see people taking out their phones to take videos and share on social media, even as those people are dying; no one is saving them. People try to make it trend on social media instead. This is very wrong and degrading practice amongst us.
To the government as well, they don’t go through the right channels to conduct proper investigations. They need the right safety professionals to get things done, but now at the end of the day, it’s just all paperwork. When you investigate accidents, find the root cause and you put in place recommended actions, there should be corrective actions that show what the problem truly is and how best to avert it. What we need to do is to enlighten stakeholders and teach them what we call Lessons Learnt From Incidents (LFI). You should then educate other drivers on how to avoid these types of accidents.
In situations with market fires, teach the market traders what to do to protect themselves. If a building collapses, we should educate people on what to do to protect themselves. Everybody should then have that knowledge on how to prevent it from happening. The essence of incident investigations is to identify the root cause of accidents and to forestall future occurrences. Nigerians don’t follow the real way to get things done. So, we need to understand exactly what health and safety is doing in order to do things properly. Professional bodies such as ISPON are doing their best, but it is not enough.
They need to wake up from their slumber.
Is there any act that borders on the compensation of workplace accident victims?
There is the Employee Compensation Act of 2010; that is the law that establishes the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). That’s a very good law that was signed under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan, but the Act was reactive. In essence, it means that it is after something has happened that you go for compensation. The proactive one is that of Occupational Safety and Health Act, which is not in Nigeria. This compensation is very good, but the principle behind it is that employers are expected to contribute one per cent of the annual salary of their staff who of course will have access to these funds if they encounter accidents. The fund is doing well, but professionally, we still need to create more awareness for employers to quickly key into NSITF in case of accidents.
When you put safety measures in place and something happens, the NSITF can assist you in taking care of the victim, injured or dead. The fund can take care of the victim’s medical expenses. So, the compensation act is working, employers just need to key into it and can do this by practicing corporate governance, just like the banks and oil/gas do.
So, we need to have all these laws to be strengthened, and to stand as a deterrent for defaulters in stating penalties. Nigeria also needs to implement the Proactive Act in the operations of her organisations.
How has ISPON fared in preaching and living to its name?
For me as a professional, I’ll say that we are trying our best, but we’ve not done well. A lot of us have done a lot of things to see how we can make safety a lifestyle and culture in Nigeria and in wherever we find ourselves. Lots of safety professionals and professional bodies are doing their quota, but we need coordinated efforts; come together and be more visible to make it happen. We need to engage the government professionally to enlighten them to understand the importance and let them see the impact of these on the economy.
I know ISPON today is ready to take this leadership drive in ensuring that health and safety becomes a lifestyle. We can also engage neglected workers that are related to health and safety such as auto mechanics, welders, and others in the informal sector. They add value to the economy of this country, so we can’t allow them to be involved in accidents; we must be ready to support them.
Finally, what key safety tips do you think individuals should arm themselves with while at work?
One of the major safety tips that everyone should know is that, shortcut cuts life short. Do the work based on the process and procedure made for it. Secondly, I will tell people to be patient so as not to be patient. Patience is a virtue, so do your work according to the laid down rules and protocols.
And to a lot of us out there who understands health and safety, we should also remember that it is better to correct an unsafe friend than to bury one. If you see anyone working in an unsafe manner, based on humanity and God’s instructions, please talk to the person in a humble manner and make the person do the needful. This will make life safer for everybody.
We see statistics of people dying in the news everyday, but the truth is, we can never describe health and safety problems with those figures. There are just numbers, but each person who dies due to lack of adequate health and safety is probably a breadwinner, probably has dependents, as well as a family.
Lastly, as Nelson Mandela rightly said, if you want the cooperation of humans around you, you must make them feel they are important. And one can only do that by being genuine and humble.