May 20, 2010

Labour Ministry moves to tackle emerging workplace hazards

By Victor Ahiuma-Young & Daniel Emeribe
EVEN as the cases of industrial accidents and casualty rate in workplaces across the country have assumed a frightening dimension and employers  seeming lack of concern for  employees’ safety and health at workplaces , the ministry of labour and productivity is exploring ways of addressing risks and hazardous situations in work environments in the country.

Mrs E.O Ibokete, Assistant Chief Inspector of Factories, Mrs Nofisat Arogundade, Controller Federal Ministry of Labour, Lagos and Dr. Ifeoma Anyawuntaku, Deputy Director Occupational Health Division, Federal Ministry of Labour, Lagos, during the symposium. Photo by Victor Ahiuma-Young

Taking into cognisance the modern day safety and health challenge in the wold of work, the international community declared the theme for this year’s “Safety and health at work 2010″ celebration, held recently across the globe as “Emerging Risk and Prevention Pattern in a Changing World of Work”

With the  national theme  “Risks Control in a Rapidly Changing Pattern of Work in Nigeria”, the  Lagos office of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity,  hosted  stakeholders at  a symposium to mark the day.

Addressing the participants, minister of labour and productivity, Chief Chukwuemeka Wogu, lamented that an enormous global estimate of 2.3 million occupational fatalities occurs annually while nothing less than 100 occupational fatalities and some billions of capital losses have been recorded this past 12 months in Nigeria.

Represented by state controller of Labour, Mrs Nofisat Arogundade, Chief Wogu, said  these as well as newspaper publications of industrial accidents in recent times call for strategic commemoration of the world day for safety and health at work in the Nigerian nation.

According to him: “ The ministry has sent two Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) bills among others to the National Assembly and is expecting the passage before the end of the year. The improved legislation is expected to strengthen the National OSH Management System and therefore improve working conditions in our work places. In the same vein, the Federal Government has just appointed some inspectors to boost the number of inspections and therefore the monitoring of the workplaces.

This celebration is expected to create public awareness and publicity for change of attitude towards general commitment to safety at work. The traditional social partnership is essential for a successful Occupational Safety and Health Management System (OSH-MS). Now that the ministry has developed and published the National Policy on Safety and Health, the employers as well as employee organizations are expected to follow suit. Vivid commitment of the tripartite at every level to every aspect of OSH management is imperative.

I therefore call on you all to consider the grave consequences of industrial accident and diseases and renew your commitment to Safety and Health at work. Let us move ahead of just compliance with the law to the level of proactive risk identification and management to mitigate industrial accidents. Productivity is  about reduction of wastage and promotion of production /service efficiency. This is the way to be successful in the global economic competition. We need to reduce man-hour loses, production delays, material and equipment losses, labour turn-over, fatalities and disabling injuries due to accident for better placement in the global competition.

In her comments, deputy director, Occupational health division DR. Ifeoma Anyanwutaku, observed that technological advances, changing work processes and work materials, as well as organizational and social changes in the world of work have had both positive and negative impacts on occupational safety and health.    She said: “These changing work processes have permeated virtually all spheres of human endeavours, and have brought about a changing profile of hazards and risk factors at work which are now posing new challenges.

These new and emerging occupational risks call for new patterns of prevention that entail innovative strategies on the part of all stakeholders. Furthermore, changing patterns of employment such as outsourcing, subcontracting, organizational restructuring, downsizing, etc, have also contributed to the emergence of new risks affecting the workforce. They have had a lot of impact on working conditions and have inevitably contributed towards increased work-related stress and other forms of
mental and behavioural disorders among workers.”

In remarks, Mrs Arogundade, lamented that the rate of work place accidents is on the rise because people have formed the habit of ignoring risk and hazardous situations in the workplaces, saying attitude and behaviour could be very dangerous.

She explained that many companies are going into automation, new technologies, bio-technologies and so on, and noted all these have implications for safety and health at workplaces

The Controller advised employers to be concerned with what happens within their factories, outside and neighbouring factories because they could affect the safety and health situations