By Victor Ahiuma-Young
FACTS emerging from factories across the country indicate that employers avid for profit at all cost is  rapidly compounding their  care free attitude  to health and safety issues at work places. Almost on a daily basis, various degrees of industrial accidents are  recorded, from  minor to major injuries to  employees.

Alarmed by this development, the Lagos Council of  the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), recently organised a one-day seminar on safety and health trade union officers and other stakeholders in the state to find out how best to confront the issue.

Addressing the opening ceremony of the seminar, Chairman of the state council of NLC, Comrade  Comrade Michael Alogba Olukoya, said the council was alarmed by the increasing cases of  industrial accidents in the manufacturing, construction and engineering sectors which render workers completely incapacitated.

He lamented that workers were often time confronted with the issue of grossly inadequate or no  compensation at all and  added that employers in these sectors were unwilling to pay compensation to the affected staff.

Comrade Alogba regretted that factory inspectors and other government agencies saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring safety standard at work places had not helped matters.

The NLC Chairman pointed out that these agencies were not doing their supervisory role of ensuring that employers meet the required standard of operation and called on government  through the labour ministry to ensure that workers were provided with  decent working environment and that their basic rights were protected.

According to him: “Trade Unions in the manufacturing, engineering and construction industries are on daily basis confronted with cases of industrial accidents and the attendant issue of compensation. In recent years, industrial accidents are on the rise as workers are compelled to work longer hours with little or no regard for their safety.

Increasingly, the factories inspectorate and other relevant agencies of government are not playing the expected supervisory role to ensure that employers meet basic standard in their operation.”

Duties of employers, employees

Speaking, state controller, Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Lagos, Mrs. Nafisat Arogundade, however said the government was doing its best to ensure safety at work places.

She told the gathering that all labour laws in the country had been reviewed and awaiting enactment, stressing that in whatever situation ,   employers and employees have responsibilities to ensure and maintain minimum health and safety standard in workers places.

According to her “employers must provide and maintain safe and health workplace, ensure safety of every operations in the work place, must provide information on the occupational, hazards and control measures in the workplace, adequate training and competence of employees and  integrate Orgnainsational Safety and Health (OSH) into business management– decent work.

Employers must  not victimize employee if employee has an occupational disease,  carries out prohibition or order issued by inspector, gives information to inspector as per the Act,  does anything required by the Act must not surcharge employees for any provisions under the act.”

Similarly, employees, Mrs Arogundade explained, “must cooperate with employers on health and safety matters, follow the health and safety rules, use the health and safety equipment provided properly, report defaults in equipment, accidents and near misses to supervisors.

Employees should also take care  of own health and safety, rights to know the hazards inherent in their jobs and measures taken by the employer to secure OSH and rights to remove self from hazardous job or place.”

Offences, Penalties

Continuing, the controller noted that what constituted offences and penalties under the Act was of criminal law which means that offences against it were punishable by fines and prison sentences and such offences  as far as OSH was concerned included “failure to comply with or contravention to this act, obstructing an inspector in his duty; refusing to cooperate with an official enquiry or investigation, tampering with evidences or witness during an inquiry or investigation; tampering or misuse of safety equipment provided by the employer; failing to use safety equipment provided by the employer and willfully or recklessly act to endanger the health and safety of any person.

The maximum penalty for negligent causing of injury is a fine of N5000.00 or two years imprisonment or both. The maximum penalties for other offences are a fine of N2000.00 or one year imprisonment or both.”

Commenting on the enforcement of various laws on OSH, she posited that legislations were valid only to the extent they were enforced, stressing that the “International Labor Organization (ILO) convention No. 155 concerning ‘occupation safety and health and the working environment’ points out the two approaches to enforcement:- article 9 of II. O C155 states thus: “9( 1 ).

The enforcement of laws and regulations pertaining to occupational safety and health and the working environment shall be secured by adequate and appropriate system of inspection. ( 2 ). The enforcement system shall provide for adequate penalties for the violation of the laws and regulations.. Article 10- measures shall be taken to provide guidance to employers and workers so as to help them comply with legal obligations.”

Mrs Arogundade said  the government and other stakeholders were working out a comprehensive review of factories Act, and declared that “occupational safety and health and working environment convention, 155 ratified by the Federal Government of Nigeria removes limitation on scope and jurisdiction of the current Act. Labour safety and health bills to reflect global and local development and challenges are currently in the National Assembly for legistrative process.”

Quoting the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Prince Adedokunbo Kayode SAN, she said  “My ministry which has the mandate to protect environment, has initiated actions to drastically reduce the high accident rate in workplaces across the country. It is my hope that when the labour safety and health bill is passed into law, it would go a long way to lift the standard of safety and health delivery in all work places.”

Collective bargaining on health/ safety issues.

Speaking on collective bargaining as it affects health and safety issue, an Assistant Director in the Lagos office of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Mr. Olayanju O. said: “Occupational safety and health convention No 155 1981. Constitution of federal republic of Nigeria.

Factories Act CAP F…. LFN 2004. The workmen’s compensation Act CAP W6 LFN 2004. The above mentioned legislation impose on the employer duty to ensure occupational safety and health of workers. Is worthy to note that Federal Ministry of Labour And Productivity is statutorily empowered to enforce its compliance. Hence, only very few safety issues are negotiable. Extra compensation could be negotiated on behalf of a victim of industrial accident.”

“Hours of work outside the standard. Overtime rate or shift allowance could be negotiated as a result. Unavoidable heat and cold. Heat or warm clothing allowances could be negotiated. Hazard allowance could be negotiated on behalf of workers who are exposed to some occupational risks. e.g. chemical, armed robbery. etc.

If collective bargaining is to produce the desired result, certain factors must be present. These are:- favourable political climate, Joint authorship of rules, Stability of workers’ organization, recognition of trade union, Willingness to give and take – compromise, Ability of the parties to negotiate and reach agreement.”

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