Another problem is also the marine police, who are supposed to man the waterfront and ensure that every boat has a required certification from certificate of competency to boat survey licence and all that. But when I look round, I don’t find the marine police on patrol to check randomly what is going on the waterway, especially, on busy days like festive periods or market day when people are being transported from one village to another – a lot have to done in that area. – Dr Salami

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Marine safety, especially safety on the waterways, seems to be the least areas attended to when HSE is considered. In this interview with Safety Record in August 2013, Alhaji (Dr) R.O. Salami of blessed memory, a Life Member and former Vice-President, Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON) opens up on many issues bordering on the safety of lives during marine operations and water transportation. Excerpt.

For the benefit of our readers, may we get to know you?

My name is Alhaji (Dr) R.O. Salami, J.P, a member of Nigeria Institute of Safety Professionals (ISPON), and several other safety organisations across the world. I was born in Ijebu Water Side in Ogun State in October 1935, grew up there and later moved to Lagos to further my education and to also look for greener pasture. Though it’s not been smooth all along, but I thank God that I arrived here today.

How did your journey into safety as a profession begin?

Initially, I started my career in life as a navigator in Shell Petroleum Development Company. I was in their marine transportation department but the Nigeria Civil War disrupted operations, and in 1965, I left Port Harcourt back for home. However, at the end of the Civil War, I went back to Shell. In the cause of putting the company back on track after the Civil war, everything was rushed up and there were many marine accidents. People’s property were found in water as a result of fast speed boats plying the riverine area of the Niger Delta colliding, people losing their lives and many other mishaps. Even the staff themselves could not have a sound sleep; they were always rushing to operation site because of rescue operations and many more.

Shell as a company does not look at accidents just like that, without thorough investigation and presenting the outcome of the investigation to the board of directors. After the outcome of the investigation, lots of questions were answered like: why so much of marine accidents? What is the company doing to reduce the rate of accidents and people drowning? The management of Shell arrived at a decision – to get somebody from the marine department to work closely with the team in the safety department of Shell and I was transferred from marine to safety and that was how my journey in safety began.

Before your transfer from marine to safety department, did you have any prior knowledge of safety?

Yes, I did because, in everything we did in the marine department, there was an element of safety; we had knowledge of safety but not in its entirety where we’d industrial safety and all.

So far, would you say it was a good decision that you actually ventured into safety?

It was a turning point in my life. This is because I had thought I was a navigator and I would remain a navigator. So when I was transferred to the safety department, it became a challenge going into a new profession and being alien to safety management. I was sponsored by Shell to the UK to study safety in RoSPA – a safety institute in Birmingham. After my study there, I went to Holland for offshore industrial attachment and when I came back after the attachment, I was offered a job of divisional adviser in marine safety and that was another very challenging situation.

What were the challenges you encountered?

Being a marine man, I did not find it difficult to cope but going into transportation, engineering, production and other aspects of oil and gas operations, it became a challenge. How do I stop people from drowning? That was the first challenge presented to me.

Well, we were not saying that people would not die by drowning, but it was so easy for someone who was not a swimmer to go into a waterborne operational area, and in the cause of mishaps and accidents become the target for drowning. The only way to stop that was to disallow those who could not swim to go into that area.

This is an area where you find highly-trained, highly-skilled, and highly-educated staff. Moreover, what did we do? I had to make an assessment, test people randomly and I found out that less than 30 percent of the people tested could actually swim. They could swim but not to survive and so what had to be done? Did we sack those who could not swim or restrict them from working? We came up with an option to teach them how to swim and we presented it to the management and good enough, they accepted my recommendation and we started swimming training both for the ones who could swim and the ones who couldn’t swim across the board. It yielded result because people now knew how to go about it especially when they were in a waterborne operational area. I am not saying that swimmers cannot die by drowning; in fact, statistics all over the world showed that of people who died by drowning, 90 percent of them were swimmers.

We were able to figure out this because people do not stick to water safety regulations. They overstretch themselves and see themselves more like fish, forgetting that even fish die in water. Others are ignorant of the times to go into the water and the times not to. All these compounds why swimmers die by drowning. Therefore, our training was on swimming and basic water safety regulation. We emphasised that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like a personal floatation device must be used. After the training, they were able to go to operation and return safely. Therefore, we were able to reduce drowning accidents. What we began to encounter, afterward, was that contractor workers were now drowning. Because safety is everybody’s responsibility and not just management – management backing must be there because they must sponsor it and ensure that safety is absolutely embraced by everybody. Therefore, contractor staff also had to be tested, trained and made to use personal floatation devices when they were in waterborne operation.

Would you say we have standard for safety practices as a people and a nation as delivered to us by these multinationals?

Well, for now, the Nigerian Institute of Safety Professionals has done its best to put out standard requirements for safety and it does not matter now whether you are multinational or national; it is safety for all and so we are not leaving it out for multinationals because they started it in their own country. Even at present, things have changed; some of them even come down here (Nigeria) and throw safety away. Therefore, we have to enforce it: safety is for all. Some of us attended the same school with them so there is no discrimination in safety training and safety policy. It is only that every company must have their own policy and of course there must be a national policy and that is why ISPON has put up a bill to the Senate for them to look into and pass it on. Once that is done you will now know that even though the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and other government functionary have put in some level of HSE at Work Act, somebody still needs to make sure that it is totally and judiciously followed. Therefore, I can categorically say that the standard is already there for people to follow. We just need enabling law to back it up and enforcement.

What will you consider as our greatest challenge as a nation when it comes to safety?

Our challenge is the entire population. The entire population in this country still doesn’t believe in personal or group safety and of course that is why efforts have been put in place by few people for mass education; mass education in terms of letting the people imbibe safety culture in everything they do – in the house, on the road, and at the workplace.

As one of ISPON’s Life Members, what is your take regarding the criticism that the standard that was there before has been lowered?

The standard has not been lowered – the only problem confronting ISPON is the passage of the bill. If the Senate passed the bill, all that we have to do is to start making periodical improvement on what is there. If they have not then we can not make any improvement on what has not been passed into law.

If we go into any factory now and find out that there is a mass deficiency in what they are doing, we cannot prosecute. We can only make correction, and the establishment can ignore the correction immediately we leave.

I have been involved in going to companies where we know that safety has been abused and we make recommendations. Although some of these companies have actually imbibed safety and they now have safety office and have safety professionals working for them, which have made things better for them and everybody. However, others just ignored it immediately we turned our back to leave. There are still so many companies guilty of this especially in Ogun State here, where I stay and work. We have so many quarries and people have been maimed and injured because there is no legislation to say that you must provide safety management.

Let us look at the Niger Delta for instance. Things are much different there; different in the sense that any company that wants to transact business with an oil company must produce a safety policy and must have safety management in place. Therefore, everybody has to be forced to go for safety training / certifications so that their company or they will be able to get contract job from oil companies. However, this is not so in other parts of the country where everybody does what they like.

An incident happened years back where a production company locked their staff in the factory; nobody got out. Unfortunately, there was fire outbreak and there was nobody to open the company gate for people whose only surviving chance was to run out of the building. The supervisor who was in charge locked the gate and the warehouse and went to sleep and this lead to the death of many people. If there was good safety management in place, that would not have happened and there were many such cases like that.

Another issue is the not too long ago building collapse in Lagos in which two people died. It is sad hearing such thing, but the question is at the time the building was constructed, was there a building plan? Was the building plan approved? Was safety built into the building plan? Who approved the plan? The engineers that constructed the building are they professionals? Are they certified engineers? All these are the procedures that should be put in place in ensuring sanity in the profession and that safety is not jeopardised.

Therefore, there must be safety in everything we do. The safety professionals are only trying to guide other professionals to imbibe safety into their job. That is why we now have doctors, bankers, even lawyers as members of ISPON.

This message needs to be driven everywhere, even to the cook in the kitchen, (that) if she is not safety conscious, she will bring poison to the table for people to eat. Many other issues, like the use of ‘I better pass my neighbour generator’ have also caused a lot of deaths.

What is your advice in taking safety to the grassroots?  

Education is what we need to take safety to the grassroots – education at management level, at top government level. We should go to the House of Assembly and educate them on the importance of safety so that they will be able to sign the bill and for us to review the provision of the bill. Laws are made and they are being reviewed, repealed, and replaced. It is not that we are going to take over the administration of government. We are going to give a very good support, especially, in terms of training: going to motor parks to lecture drivers, going to the waterfront to lecture boat operators, though we have being doing that, and we are working on ways to make improvements. We are not going to stop at that, we should make sure that safety is now introduced to primary and secondary school, principals, and teachers are now imbibing safety. For instance, ISPON did some of these things, where prizes were given to school children during a safety quiz competition after we had a lecture. Moreover, even now at a higher level, we now have the University of Port Harcourt rolling out students at the Master’s level in safety management. If we could do more of this, and even circulate your paper Safety Record to schools, homes, offices, etc, then, safety can get quickly to the grassroots.

What has been the lowest and highest point in your career?

The lowest, as you said, is taking risks. There is no profession that is without risks, what we do is to examine the risks taken. Having said that, the lowest risk I have taken is driving a vehicle on the road speeding without considering other road users. It got to a point that I almost crashed my vehicle and at that time, it was at this point that I realised that I should not be doing this. I had to be in control even when the road was good. I had to march my speed at my own reaction time to incident, and from that day on, I never took such risks anymore. Because of this, I can tell others now that when you are driving, you have to drive carefully even if your vehicle is good, consider that other vehicles are also on the road. Drive your vehicle with safety precautions, and leave other vehicles to take precautions.

On the other hand, the highest risk taken was during a rescue operation on the sea where a boat almost capsized. We had to rescue everyone on board to the shore and we made nothing less than eight trips carrying people from the boat to the shore, even at the risk of overloading my own rescue boat. But I thank God that it was successful because I was able to bring everyone out. I will never forget the experience because we would have lost over two hundred people on that day, in 2010, at the river between Maku Omi and Ode Omi in Ogun State. Some friends and relations went for burial ceremony and on their way back the big boat that carried over two hundred people struck an underwater peg which caused some damages to the boat and we were asked to rescue everybody and no life was lost.

Talking about drowning, there is an account of a Mr. Steve Oguntimehin, a staff of Consolidated Discounts Limited, who in December 2012 lost his life on the Lagos lagoon. He went for a boat ride with his wife and friend in one of the privately-operated boats. The boat capsized and he and his friend died as a result. To date, nothing has been done about it. What do you think is responsible for this?

The major cause of accidents is ignorance of safety requirements. Most boat operators do not have lifesaving equipment in their boat; the engines are not maintained to standard. In fact, my own observation – I have done audit in some of these places – I found out that most of these commercial boats do not even have the required certifications. They are not registered and do not have lifesaving devices on their boat. Even some of the operators do not even have the required certificate of competence and these are the major problems.

In addition, most of these accidents are not even reported to the relevant authorities. It is either these authorities are not informed or they are not receiving the correct information, which has to be done by an enlightened person.

Another problem is also the marine police, who are supposed to man the waterfront and ensure that every boat has a required certification from certificate of competency to boat survey licence and all that. But when I look round, I don’t find the marine police on patrol to check randomly what is going on the waterway, especially, on busy days like festive periods or market day when people are being transported from one village to another – a lot have to be done in that area.

You were awarded an honorary doctorate degree, tell us about it?     

The doctorate degree I got was more of a boost because I did not even know that people were watching my activities. They looked at my past performances and past records and I was awarded the degree. That actually boosted my ego because I thought I was just doing my own job the way I could do it. I was not looking for any remuneration or salary after working, but when these universities collaborated and awarded me the doctorate degree it was a call to duty and I realise that I still have a lot to do.

You are presently in charge of the HSE faculty in Gateway Industrial and Petroleum Institute (GIPI). What is the institute about?

GIPI, otherwise known as Gateway Industrial And Petroleum Institute, is the vision of Otunba Gbenga Daniel to settle all our graduates who are jobless, roaming the streets, with their degree or diploma without adequate employment, while available openings are being occupied by foreigners with technical know-how and certification. As a result, the governor wrote a proposal to the house of assembly with the vision of empowering our people and the school was established to train graduates in professionalism. It is meant for graduates in any field of their endeavour to come back to this school and learn a profession or a trade. Since its establishment, GIPI has trained professionals in HSE and since 2008 to date, it has trained much personnel to become safety officers. They have their diplomas, and they are gainfully employed.

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In 2010, the institute added the school of marine, where we train marine engineers and we also train underwater divers and we also have curriculum to train people who will be captain of small crafts, so that safety will be imbibed into all these specialised workers and we expect them to protect people, lives and their properties. In addition, of course, GIPI also runs short courses in health and safety environment, etc. You need to do a profile of this school and you would be amazed at its relevance and achievement since its establishment.

What would be your advice to the government?

First and for most, the Senate should give priority to ISPON’s bill and pass it, that is when safety professionals can be visibly more effective. Also, institutions should re-address their curriculum even at the primary school level. Safety should be a core subject so that they can catch it young and grow with it and by the time they get into the university, they would have started practicing safety. Also institutions like GIPI, PTI should be funded and should be given adequate funds to improve their level of equipment for trainings.

What will be your message to the safety professionals?

Generally, safety professionals have come a long way and they are very few and still cannot make the requirement in the industry that is why we have unqualified professionals in the industry. I do not call them professionals but safety workers. That is not giving us the pedigree that we need. We need professionals that will stand their feet against sharp practices, whose salary will merge with their qualification and their responsibility. Presently, the Nigerian safety professionals are not well paid and again remuneration is part of what will make somebody perform better. The safety professionals also have to do more in publicity, radio jingles, and to educate people in cities and villages across the nation.

What is your message to the people?      

Nigerians are exposed to a lot of hazards and they should see to it that these hazards are reduced and that they do not take unnecessary risks. They should know that the environment is hazardous to them. They should know that the water they drink must be safe. They should know that the food they eat must be safe and they should know that the condition of living in their homes also meet safety standard. A lot of people even in this part of the world are not aware of HIV. Since they don’t know, they are not even thinking about it, not to talk about prevention or protection. And by the time they get infected, they will now be looking at it as if it is one witch that is after them. So the people need to get themselves informed and here again, the safety professionals come in. They need to educate the general public so that they can be thinking about safety from time to time.

What particular area gives you concern?

The particular area that gives me concern is building collapse. We build a structure that we know that people are going to stay in and either because we use low-quality equipment, we put a very poor foundation, and we know that the foundation cannot take two-storey and we begin to put five-storeys on the foundation and at the end, the building collapses.

I will call on the government, especially, the authority in charge of giving approval to building plans to make sure that the engineers that are involved in any approved building are qualified and the government should also send inspectors to see to the quality of materials and standard.


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