Let us cut to the chase – 2016 was marred with disasters. Indeed it has become a recurrent embarrassment all over the federation, so much so that countless lives and properties worth billions of naira are lost to disasters yearly, many of them avoidable. The collapse of the Reigners Bible Church building in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state that killed scores of worshippers and injured many more is one too many of such incidents in 2016.
But, as if it was not enough, nine days after, market stalls collapsed and reportedly killed two and injured about 17 others in the same state. In Kano in August, five persons reportedly escaped death when a three-storey building under construction in Kano State University of Technology gave way. In Abuja, a structure under construction for a private company collapsed, trapping some workers under the rubbles. And in Lagos, structures large and small so often collapse, the most remembered in recent times being the Lekki building collapse and a guest house owned by The Synagogue Church of All Nations that killed over 100 persons, most of whom were foreigners. How many more shall we mention?
In all these, one could hardly make out where and when the voice or impact of the safety regulatory bodies in the country was brought to bear on the issues, not even when the government instituted panels of inquiry into the disasters. The Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPoN), which is charged with overseeing workplace safety, in all these, has reacted with far less urgency. It did not step up incidents inspections or mandate safety standards for the sectors in question, even as more workers and Nigerians became victims of such blatant neglect.
The body is saddled with the responsibility to regulate the professionals who are supposed to ensure that developers of buildings – large and small – adhere to safety rules and regulations, including the quantity and quality of construction material. It is also to identify – by carrying out research, inspect, and monitor the construction of buildings in their respective areas of jurisdiction.
Rather it has become enmeshed in other matters of personal interest that have further entrenched unethical work practices which have continued to endanger workers’ wellbeing and claim lives and property.
The ongoing internal wrangling in ISPoN – court cases and battles at different levels in the state branches, no matter what dimensions they have assumed, is not in the interest of service to humanity. Rather, it has further weakened enforcement of rules and monitoring of issues.
ISPoN in the heart of all the disasters befalling Nigerian workers has been focusing on training and inducting members into the institute while doing virtually nothing in the area of standard setting, research, and enforcing health and safety standards, with regular inspections and fines.
They have simply got out of the standard-setting business in favor of industry partnerships that have not yielded any results. In fact, the institute has very little to show in form of increased worker protection since 2014, when it got its Act.
Ideally, the institute should focus on occupational safety and health – protecting workers from hazardous substances and conditions that require investigation to identify and regulate. This is where their resources and expertise are of greatest help. Workplace safety, though a legitimate government concern, may be more easily addressed by a committed professional body empowered to do so.
An apex safety professional body like ISPoN in Nigeria needs to be heard. The impact of the Act, which gives them the right to regulate the industry, needs to be felt not only by industry players, but by the government of the day as well.
One baffling fact that has crippled the institute’s position in the nation and is gradually eroding its relevance is that it does not have a voice – the instrumentality of public relations office has gone comatose and is at best non-existent.
It is our stance that citizens and the government need to be provided with information garnered through inspections where there has been on-the-job exposure to dangers that could pose a health danger or that led to a disaster. ISPoN should begin to flex its muscles, imposing fines on organisations and practitioners breaching or not complying with instituted standards. It ought to aggressively pursue its responsibilities as a matter of life and death to Nigerian workers.
ISPoN needs a good many things to begin doing its job properly – a larger staff with more technical and scientific expertise, a vastly expanded inspection force, and a systematic approach to standard-setting.