Occupational Health And Safety: Unending Pains Of Nigerian Workers

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Statistics by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) show that everyday, 6,400 people die from an occupational accident or disease globally, amounting to 2.3 million deaths each year. Michael Oche writes on how Nigerian workers are faring

In Nigeria, the story has not been different. Analysts say the work environment is increasingly getting precarious for millions of workers in different sectors of the economy as they are daily exposed to worsening health and safety situations with increased cases of deaths and injuries at work.

“Nigerian workers are dying as a result of stress due to non-payment of living wages, while workers are struggling to make ends meet. Most times, workers in Nigeria refuse to go on leave not because the employers don’t allow them, but they prefer to continue working just to make more money,” Head of Occupational Health and Safety at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Maureen Onyia-Ekwuaze said ahead of this year’s celebration.

A long-standing ILO priority, occupational safety and health were recognised as a fundamental human right in the 2008 Seoul Declaration on Safety and Health at Work. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) sets aside every April 28 to commemorate the world day for safety and health at work and to raise awareness on occupational safety and health.

This year’s theme “Workplace stress: a collective challenge,” has been described as apt, owing to the increasing pressure workers face to meet the daily challenges associated with their jobs.

Numerous surveys and studies confirm that occupational pressures and fears are by far the leading sources of stress for workers across the world and that these have steadily increased over the past few decades. In Nigeria, studies have shown that stress due to job insecurity has skyrocketed.

Unfortunately, there is less awareness about this aspect of occupational health. With increased competition, higher expectations as regards performance and longer working hours, working environment is now becoming even more precarious. Experts say this has negative consequences on workers’ mental health and wellbeing.

While industrialised countries have seen a clear decrease of serious injuries as a result of structural changes in the nature of work and real improvements in making the workplace healthier and safer, including improved first aid and emergency care which saves lives in the event of accidents, developing countries such as Nigeria continue to experience increase in work place hazard caused by negligence.

In Nigeria, about 75 per cent of workers suffer from various forms of stress-related illnesses as the impact of economic volatility takes its toll on the country’s workforce, according to a survey by global workplace provider Regus.

The multinational workplace solutions provider, Regus, added that businesses can help change this trend because as many as 84 per cent of Nigerian workers identified flexible working as critical to help ease work-related stress. Stress-related illness can worsen or cause a whole series of health conditions ranging from obesity to heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems and asthma.

According to the survey, 30 per cent of Nigerian workers are actually losing sleep worrying about work. From the latest statistics, stress-related illnesses in Nigeria are way higher than the global average.

The Country Director of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Country Office for Nigeria and Liaison Office for ECOWAS, Mr. Dennis Zulu, while delivering the ILO Director-General’s Statement on 2015 World Day for Safety and Health at Work, called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to initiate the process for ratifying and domesticating all relevant ILO Conventions on occupational safety and health.

“Some of the Conventions that need to be ratified include C155 – Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) and C187 – the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006. Adequate regulation is urgently needed to enforce such safety culture in all organisations,” the ILO stated.

The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, hinted that Congress will soon create a reporting site in the already existing NLC website where workers can report what is happening in their places of work on daily basis with regards to accidents and work related diseases.

He said the OSH bill failed to be passed into law on the ground of technicalities, saying, “there is a wind of change in Nigeria, the federal ministry of labour and all of us should strive to get a better law for Nigeria with 8th assembly. We know that adequate basic legal frameworks and regulations specifying minimum requirements are an essential foundation for achieving safe and healthy workplaces.”

However, Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, during an on-the-spot visit to the site of the Gas plant explosion in Nnewi, Anambra state, recently said  Nigerian government would soon begin issuance of safety certificates to factories.

“From the second quarter of this year (2016), the ministry would embark on aggressive factory regulation activities aimed at ensuring that factories are up to date on their responsibilities in terms of safety of workers. Both the NSITF and occupational safety and health department will enforce the laws guiding safety in the workplace,” he said.

Last September, dockworkers at the Five Star Logistics Terminal, Tin-Can Island Port, Lagos, suspended work over the death of their colleague, Mr Paul Ifah. The incident, which brought to two, the deaths of dockworkers in the terminal in less than two weeks, occurred when stacked heavy-duty pipes rolled off and killed Ifah instantly.

Earlier in May, bottling operations at the Benin plant of the Nigeria Bottling Company (NBC) were abruptly halted by casual workers, following the death of one of their colleagues whose name was given as Jerry Ayo. The angry workers completely shut the plant located at Eyean in Uhunmwode local government of Edo State, while protesting the death of their colleague. They also barricaded the company’s gate and set-up bonfires.

Also speaking, the Head of Occupational Health and Safety at the NLC, said Nigeria is yet to show much interest in occupational Health and Safety as it affects workers despite support by the ILO.

She lamented the non-passage of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) bill into law by the 7th National Assembly on the ground of technicalities but however said the NLC was ready to reintroduce the bill to the 8th National Assembly.

“ILO is already supporting this process. The first bill we have pushed to the National Assembly, ILO supported the tripartite to come up with that bill. They held meetings for several years and came up with that bill. At a time, it was passed by the House of Representatives, while the one before the senate went as far as public hearings. Then, suddenly, the House of Representatives reversed itself to say they didn’t pass it. Now, we are going to start all over again.”

She said, “in Nigeria, Employers don’t take issues of occupational health and safety serious not because they don’t know that it is important but largely because most of them think keeping up to date on health and safety of workers will make them spend more money. But research has shown that when your workers are healthy and the workplace is secured, you will make more profit, because it will attract more people to your investment.”


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