Hassan Hassan has certifications of 11 different professional bodies across facilities management, risk management, environmental health, estate surveying and valuation, and management. He is currently the Group Head of BCL Nigeria Limited. In this interview with Safety Record Newspaper’s Asst. Editor, Paul Mbagwu in his office in Lekki, Lagos, he spoke on controversies facing the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPoN), construction safety standardisation, entrenching safety culture in organisations and others. Excerpt.
Can we start about you telling us about yourself?
My name is Hassan Tunde Hassan. Originally, I am from Ogun state. I started my career as an estate surveyor and valuer from the Chartered Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers here in Nigeria. My career in health and safety started way back 10 years ago. I think this year should be my tenth year as a safety professional. I left the shores of Nigeria ten years back for the United Kingdom to advance my career. I wanted to do facility management, but I found out that if I added health and safety to it I would stand out among my peers in the United Kingdom, so I was given that opportunity and here I am today.
I can tell you that I belong to so many institutions apart from here in Nigeria. I am a member of British Institute of Facilities Management (MBIFM) and also their treasurer here in Nigeria. And I am also an accredited Associate of Certified Institute of Environmental Health (ACIEH) UK. I am a Technical Member of IOSH. I am also a Specialist Member of International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM). Like I said earlier, I am a registered surveyor and valuer here in Nigeria. I am a registered Member of Nigeria Institute of Estate Surveyor and Valuer (NIESV) here in Nigeria. I am also a Member of Institute of Certified Auctioneers of Nigeria. I am a member of Nigerian Institute of Management. I can say I am certified by eleven institutions and also NEBOSH/IGC certified.
I came back to Nigeria 2014 when this company called BCL which I work for now brought me back from the UK. Before then, I was the Facility Manager/ Health and Safety Adviser with the Ministry of Justice, Northampton Court. When I came back to Nigeria, I decided to be a member of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria though it was not straight forward for me because I was wondering how I have to write Level 3 exams and NEBOSH after my years of experience coupled with my certifications. I was determined and so I wrote the exams and by 2015, I became an Associate Member of ISPoN. Although I was supposed to be given full membership, I was surprised being given an associate membership.
What did you call the name of your company?
Business Contracting Limited (BCL)
Can you tell us about your safety services management and how it plays out in BCL?
BCL has sister companies: we have BCL M&E and also the BCL Royston. BCL Royston deals with power generation, while M&E has to do with the mechanical and electrical aspect of the job. I am like the Group Health and Safety Adviser. If you have been to our site you will see that it is one of the best in standard in Nigeria because it is driven by what I was able to learn from the UK. As a whole, my impact is to breed young safety professionals. The way I started when I came in was to start getting people to be home safety officers because I have some people working on site that were just ordinary labour with good qualification – some had HND; some had BSc. So I took it upon myself and I said instead of getting people from outside why not train these people and make them my safety officers? The idea was bought over by the management and they allowed me to at least do what I had to do. I can tell you today that my department is like separate from the company itself. It is like working for the company and they regarding you as a consultant; they don’t interfere with what you do in your department within the company. Ando so, every recruitment that has to do with health and safety goes to me and not the human resources. I directly employ people in health and safety. (He displays the curriculum vitae of a job applicant.) This is from the CEO, the Group Managing Director, and it is not the human resource that takes care of the recruitment of health and safety personnel.
So how would you rate or describe the attention given to safety by the construction industry in Nigeria?
To me, it is still very low, sincerely speaking. It is still very, very low. I have taken it upon myself to be somebody who will ensure that it keeps on improving. One thing is, if you have a number of people doing things safely in the country, then you have less mortality rate and you have good productivity. With those who have been here for a long while, I mean the big guns in the construction industry, I think they have not got to where they are supposed to be in health and safety.
For every building collapse mishap in Nigeria, what role does safety officer play in it?
The thing is that we are yet to get to that point. If you look at the design, I mean construction design of buildings in Nigeria, they don’t involve health and safety personnel at the inception when they are planning. In the UK there is construction design management which encompasses all the people involved in the building, including the safety personnel too. But here in Nigeria we don’t have that. Once they are having construction somewhere, you find out that they are only bringing safety personnel but he doesn’t don’t even have any form of influence on what they are about to do. But if he is brought initially into construction design management, then I think that will reduce the number of collapse because he will also be able to tap into the knowledge of these builders and also be able to give his own view on what they are about to do. How safe is the construction that has been carried out? What we have done in BCL is that for every construction project, I am always involved. I am always having what we called a pre-start meeting in which everybody comes together that is going to be involved in that project. And that is where I have my input and also know what it is all about.
Well, it’s not really the fault of safety officers when buildings collapse because they are not the engineers. Building collapse has to do with architects and engineers coming together to put down a structure and on the long run, you might find out that the engineers are also cutting corners or the architects that designed the building reverse thinking of the safety implications, which is something that we need to move away from. If you are designing something you should also think about the health and safety issues of what you are designing.
How do you think judging from your experience that Nigeria can get out of this situation?
Yes, to me I have not lost hope in doing the right thing in Nigeria. Once we eliminate corruption, nepotism, cutting corners and the rest, you will find out that Nigeria will do much better. Nigeria can get out of these if they engage every one that is supposed to be in that industry as professionals coming together to map out a strategy; everybody should have an input. You will find out that most of the time even the client might be at fault because you design something for a client and the client says, ‘No, this is my money. I want you to do it this way’. That is why it is always noble for a professional to say no and you are going to walk away. What you find in Nigeria is that because of the money, you get involved and that is one thing I have moved away from, because I believe that God is sufficient for you. I am sorry; I am not really a religious person. I have that believe that it is not everything I have to get into, especially when it goes against my professional judgment. I believe we can get out of this if everybody is serious-minded, thinking about their profession first of all and also think about the ethics that governs the profession. And I think if that comes to play and there are sanctions to censure non-compliance to professional ethos, we will really get out of it.
Let’s look at Labour. We have factory inspectors. Where does their role come to play when it comes to construction?
If you look at the Factories Act, I can’t remember what year it was enacted; it tends towards only commercial properties. I believe it was for the emerging factories that the law was put in place, and I think by now we should have got better laws than that. To me, factory inspectors should only come in when it comes to commercial properties like the warehouses and anything that has to do with a commercial sort of thing where production takes place. That is why they should be part of construction design management. If I am designing a factory and I have submitted my buildings plans and all that to the government, the factory inspector should be able to come in and say this is right and this is not right; they have not put enough windows for ventilation and they have not put enough standards and all that. Everybody should be involved. It is not when you have the building now in place that you have people coming to castigate, saying ‘this is right; this is not right. This should have been done in the first place.’ Everybody from inception should be involved.
Recently you have been so passionately involved in the business of Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPoN). You have one way or the other raised issues and tried to quash one thing or the other that is going on in the institute. What exactly will you say is your drive to want to get involved in politics?
My drive is for professional excellence. I am not getting involved in the politics of ISPoN because that is one thing I want people to get clear. I’m not interested in any post; I am not interested in becoming anything in ISPoN. What I want is a vibrant institution where I can say: Yes, when I am taking people from ISPoN, I mean who have earned ISPoN certification, I can rely on them, not that I have to go extra training. If you are bringing a level 3, I should be able to say he/she attained the level of a supervisor and as a supervisor you should require minimal supervision. You understand where we are coming from? My drive which people don’t get is that I don’t have anything against anybody at ISPoN, but we should learn to do the right thing. This is me when I came into Nigeria.
Let me show you something. (Brings out a list) I changed the concept of this company, ensuring that ISPoN is number one. That is, if one doesn’t have ISPoN certificate I will not employ him. So if I have done that for ISPoN – You can see the number of people here and this is just a minimal list. I have up to twenty seven safety officers. These are people I brought in myself and they all have ISPoN certification one way or the other starting from level two. As evidence, these people don’t understand where I am coming from. They think, ‘what is this guy talking about?’
This is the health and safety structure for BCL. This is my concept. Even for the health and safety manager: HND or BSC, ISPoN Membership (Associate) as minimum; NEBOSH IGC or diploma, ISPoN comes first before any other certification. And do you know the funniest thing? I had other certification before ISPoN. ISPoN was my eleventh certification, was the eleventh institution I belonged to. This is my country, and if other countries have their own rules and regulation governing them in health and safety, why can we not have one here also that is vibrant?
In what way do you think ISPoN is not getting it?
They are not getting it in terms of training, in terms of certification, in terms of sensitising people about health and safety. ISPoN is not doing anything that you can say, ‘Yes, this is an institution that is working.’ If you look at the last training that I kicked against when I had to go down to the secretariat, they were merging two courses together. They were merging GHSE and Level 3 for four or five days. It is never done anywhere in the world. And at the end of the courses you will now tell people that they have to write a short test. Even for NEBOSH, you have to go for three weeks training and the last week for your exams and the exams is both theory and practical. Your IGC 3 is practical; you have to go on site for your IGC 3 but has ISPoN ever done that? Saying, go to site and practice what you have learnt.
But we gathered that they are having one meeting or the other – a form of a reconciliation meeting. Are you aware of that?
I’m aware of that and I am also one of the people that pushed for that. We intend to put ISPoN back in other. We also intend to remove mediocres from the system. If you are a facilitator, you should be able to facilitate on what you know, not having you facilitate about four or five courses just because you have the slides available. It’s not done anywhere in the world.
What should Nigerians be expecting and how do you think should maximise what ISPoN has for Nigeria?
For now I think ISPoN for now does not have anything for Nigerians. They have an Act but that Act needs a review. You and I have seen the Act but it needs a proper review. The Act was only used for some people to remain in power for a long time. If you look at the Act, it needs a proper review in which all members will come together and agree and say yes that this is the policy we want to follow. It is a welcome idea that we started with an Act. In health and safety, you review your risk assessment and as time goes on you find new things coming in. Same thing should go for the Act. It should not be like something we have had and that is the final.
ISPoN is not being heard in Nigeria and when there are issues like construction collapse here and there you hardly hear speak. Where exactly and what do you think is the issue?
The issue is because of the leadership. Leadership has more roles to play, and also not getting it right, not knowing their functions. If we have a collapse we should be able to do our own assessment on what happened and be able to give the public that if this was in place this would not have happened.
Who is supposed to take the initiative to do that – ISPoN leadership or any member?
You can’t take an initiative alone. I have been taking some initiatives on my own. I go to see some sites around me and I found out that Lagos State Safety Commission is very active and very vibrant. Once I see something wrong on a site I take the pictures and send it to the Director General, Lagos State Safety Commission and they act upon it. Sometimes, they ask for a report when you go to their office. For the fire incident that happen at the Breweries and all that, they were already compiling a report on it and if you go there and you want to know what has transpired and what has been done to ensure that we don’t have that in the future you find it in the report. It is about ISPoN accepting that we can do this and the leadership is right and we are willing to work for the institution and not just for some few people that think ISPoN is their property and want to make money out of the institute. That is what I am seeing here.
I’m a facilitator with Lagos State Safety Commission and I am doing it pro bono; I am doing it for free. I am an accredited professional with Lagos State Safety Commission. Some weeks back, before we went on holiday, the DG was here. He was impressed with what he saw and he asked if we could replicate all these models elsewhere. I said, ‘Fine, we can.’ And I even gave him stuff to examine to see that this is the good way of sensitising people on health and safety. So I think ISPoN can do better than what we have now if we have right people in the right places.
What should we be expecting from you in five years’ time?
Well, a lot of things. Now I have my own estate surveying and valuation firm. I am a registered surveyor. Also, I will be going into consultancy in health and safety and I can say there will be a massive improvement if people are buying into my ideas. The thing is that once people start buying into your ideas, things will only get better. I have made my site open even to ISPoN for them to have practical trainings. It is on the (ISPoN online) platform. All you need to do is just write me. Once you write officially, then I can take it up from there. You are free: come in, do your practical and that is it. That is my own way of giving back to the institution. And apart from that, I have had a lot of people going there for their training from Level 3 to Level 6. That means they have being generating money for me. If we have over 25 people in the last one year having certain training In ISPoN, multiply it by forty thousand naira. Apart from getting money for trainings from my staff, my site is open to them to do their practical and it is free.
What I want is to say is that I am only doing this for passion, not for any political gain and not for any form of gratification from anybody. This is me. And the good thing is that if the company trusts me to the level of bringing me down all the way from the UK to do this for them, I think am sufficient with what they are paying me. When we had the meeting in Ikotun (Lagos), I was part of the people that ensured that we had chairs and all that. So it is all about passion. And if you have passion for something, there is nothing that is being paid that’s a substitute for your passion. That’s why I will encourage the young ones that if they have passion for something they should pursue it and the sky is the limit.