The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment under its factory inspectors department are responsible for the enforcement of occupational health and safety at work places. They derive this enforcement right under Factory Act Cap F1, 2004, Law of the Federation of Nigeria. They also oversee the implementation of several other subsidiary legislations, which provide for safety, health and welfare of workers in all workplaces nationwide.
The enforcement of factories Act is done through registration of new factory premises, renewal of certificate of registration and amendment or revocation of certificate of registration; special inspection of workplaces, investigation of accidents, dangerous occurrences and occupational diseases
Others are through prosecution of recalcitrant occupiers, preparation of safety and health regulations, provision of occupational safety and health education, recording and dissemination of information and statistics on all aspects of occupational safety and health through the National Occupational Safety Health Information Centre (CIC).
Occupational safety and health were recognised as a fundamental human rights 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 by stakeholders in the labour and health sector, owing to the increasing pressure workers face to meet the daily challenge associated with their jobs.Numerous surveys and studies confirm that occupational pressures and fears are by far the leading source of stress for workers across the world and that these have steadily increased over the past few decades.
Although there is no accurate record on the rate of occupational accidents in Nigeria, the statistics by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows that each day, 6,400 people die from an occupational accident or disease globally, amounting to 2.3 million deaths each year. Records also indicate that over 313 million workers suffer non-fatal occupational injuries each year, equating to 860,000 people injured on the job daily. This means that increasingly, more people die at work than at wars. But even more worrisome is the ILO’s estimates that occupational accidents and diseases result in annual 4 per cent loss in global gross domestic product (GDP) or about 2.8 trillion US dollars in direct and indirect cost of injuries and diseases.
In Nigeria, 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.
The meeting last Thursday between Mr. Dennis Zulu, the ILO country Director and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Ngige has further given a ray of hope on adherence to high standard on OSH in Nigeria. Both have again reinstated their commitment to work together as ILO further assured of its technical and financial supports to Nigeria government in addressing the issue of OSH, as the world celebrates the International OSH Day.
Sen. Ngige during the meeting reminded the ILO Country Director of his earlier request in Addis Ababa that in view of the enormous contributions of Nigeria to the ILO and being the first country to host its office in Africa, opened in 1959, it should be accorded a prime place in the West African sub region through the upgrade of its regional office in Nigeria to a multi-disciplinary centre that can cater for its needs as the hub of West African countries.
Ngige said, “The name of this ministry was changed to Ministry of Labour and Employment to reflect its pivotal role in the job creation efforts of the Federal Government. The activities of the ministry are also accentuated by this responsibility and we are living up to the task. However the aspect that makes for industrial relations, social protection for the vulnerable and the entire workforce as enshrined in the ILO status and the nation’s constitution will not be abandoned.”
The issues of occupational health and safety have generated concern among the tripartite partners that is labour, employers and government.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) on its part has re-emphasized its commitment to support the Nigerian government in its effort to ensure that health and safety at work is taken seriously. The ILO says over the years, it has shown its commitment to ensuring safe work environment in Nigeria by giving both technical and financial support to the Nigerian government and other social partners like the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
For instance the ILO in 2005 sponsored and supported the formulation of a draft bill on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) which was submitted to the National Assembly for enactment.
The Director of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Country Office, Abuja which is in charge of Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Liaison Office for ECOWAS, Mr. Dennis Zulu, during the 2015 world day for safety and health at work, urged Nigeria to ratify and domesticate relevant ILO conventions, review and sign into law the Occupational Health and Safety which was submitted to National Assembly in 2005. According to the ILO country office director, the International Labour Standards along with relevant laws and policies would give impetus to the promotion of safety at work. “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.
Zulu also said ILO is currently supporting the effort of Federal Government to develop a national OSH profile in Nigeria, adding that already, ILO OSH specialist has provided technical support in preparing a National OSH checklists. Though the Nigerian government has domesticated ILO convention 155 which emphasize safe work environment, analysts have identified enforcement as a major problem. However, there is increasing confidence that with the continued support of the ILO, Nigerian workers will begin to experience improvements in health and safety within the workplace.
This view was shared by Dr. Chris Ngige, who spoke ahead of this year’s OSH day. He said, “The ILO is cooperating with us. As a matter of fact, at the last ILO meeting in Addis Ababa, where the theme was decent work in Africa, we got the DG of ILO to agree to visit Nigeria at the earliest possible time. Also the country office in Nigeria has been upgraded so that they can give us technical support in terms of expertise.”
Ngige expressed his worry over low attention being accorded occupational safety in Nigeria even as he said that the department of safety and health in the ministry lacks sufficient inspectors who are supposed to be visiting factories and the tools to discharge their duties effectively.
He however assured that once the budget is signed, the issues would be solved.
Ngige assured that this year’s celebration would be used to inform employers of labour to do more in the area of occupational safety, adding that after the awareness, sanctions could be rightfully enforced.
Also speaking, the Head of Occupational Health and Safety at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Maureen Onyia-Ekwuaze 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 Assembly on the ground of technicalities. She said the NLC would soon reintroduce the bill to the National Assembly.
She said, “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 chided employers for not taking the issues of occupational health and safety serious because of their thinking that such would 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,” she said. On the choice of this year’s theme, “Workplace stress: A collective challenge,” she said it was chosen because Nigerian workers are dying as a result of stress due to non-payment of living wages.