The Occupational Safety and Health Bill provides for the establishment of a National Council and a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. This bill passed through the legislative scrutiny of the sixth Senate but failed to scale through relevant Senate committees' table before the expiration of that tenure in August 2010. Only recently, the seventh Senate revisited this bill.
When I saw the news on TV about the Safety and Health Bill I was very elated and it gladdened my heart. At last the bill has reached the stage where a few more debates will lead to its passage. I am even more thrilled to know that prior to its long recess, Senate had fast-tracked the bill into second reading and referred same to its relevant committees for further consideration before it comes back for third reading in preparatory for its final passage. This is a very welcome move.
I must sincerely thank Senator Chris Anyanwu for her steadfastness and commitment to this bill. She must have worked so hard to ensure the bill did not escape the minds of her fellow distinguished Senators considering how long it has been on the cards. I understand Senator Wilson Ake the Chairman of the committee on Employment, Labour & Productivity did a good job on the day.
The new bill I understand will take over the factories Act of 1990 which set up the moribund factories inspectorate in the Ministry of Labour and that all the activities of the factory Act would be taken over by the council that will be established by the bill.
The saying goes that what is worth doing is worth doing well. I must also add that it is also worth doing quickly. Workers health and safety should be considered a very important aspect of the life of the Nigerian. A country without laws to govern how work places operate is like the jungle where anything goes. This is why I am pleading with the distinguished Senators to expedite every action needed to ensure the bill is enacted as quickly as possible.
The concept of our National Council for Occupational Safety and Health should be goal setting rather than prescriptive. We should also lay the primary responsibility for ensuring health and safety on those who create the risk and those who work with them and not with the council. This approach will leave room for innovation to take account of different circumstances such as the significant changes that will take place in the economy over the next decade as already envisaged by Vision 20:2020 and the GEJ's reform agenda.
I believe the passage of this bill will go a long way to let Nigerian workers know that the Federal Government is not only concerned about their minimum wage of 18,000 Naira but also about their overall welfare in the work place. This is a highly welcome reform for our workers.
Also with the establishment of the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health there will be an organization the country will rely on and be able to relate with the outside world and compare notes on workers' health issues with the collation, collection analysis and use of appropriate statistics.
As implementation is usually a problem inNigeria, it is clear that turning knowledge into reality through concrete actions will require everyone to be active and to play their respective roles. In particular, there is a need to be clear about priorities and about who does what.
In these challenging financial times, it is crucial that duplication of effort and overlap are removed as the organization is set up. In doing so we must be alert to the danger of allowing gaps in the coverage to develop that could leave workers needlessly at risk. We should learn from the mistakes of other interventionist agencies like the NDDC where in fighting has led to delay in execution and implementation of the reasons why it was set up..
We know that there are difficulties in reporting which leads to less robust data sets in our country. In addition, there are also the difficulties that come when trying to capture information related to a broad range of health related issues. Efforts must therefore be initially concentrated on setting up a good statistical base for the organization. This cannot be done by the organization alone; it requires the co-operation of employers, employees and their representatives and other associated organizations like the FRSC, the various Nigerian labour unions as well as the private employers.
We will all agree that our current pattern of work-related deaths and illnesses largely reflect the industrial conditions of the past and our current work practices. The death toll this legacy has left us is great and we must ensure that it does not continue into the future.
We would all need to re-invigorate our efforts to address these hazards given their serious impact on individuals and society. The NCOSH has to very clearly position its role and indeed its mission as being the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities.
In my experience, there is the temptation to focus mainly on safety issues in such a new organization thereby leaving out health issues. There is also the possibility of health practitioners not understanding what their roles will be in terms of safety matters. It is therefore very important that at this initial setting up stage, every effort is made to have a proper coordination and alignment of both health and safety matters and proper and fit people are saddled with the responsibility of taking leadership roles. It is my belief that unless and until this happens leadership on work-related health will be out of balance with that on safety.
Workplaces do change fast. The number of small and medium sized companies is expanding, many of them working in high risk areas without the expertise available to larger companies. This has led to an increasing culture of risk aversion in our society. It is not without doubt that for too many organisations, health and safety has become synonymous with petty regulations instead of a focus on the most important risks.
Leadership is very important because without leadership the other things simply won't happen ÔÇô the workforce involvement, competence at all levels, prioritisation of hazards and risks. These things happen because leaders make them happen.
We must therefore focus on "Leadership and Management for Safety and Health" not "just Management of Health and Safety". This organization must have teeth to bite and be without the image of bureaucracy, interference and stopping things happening. We must therefore avoid a situation where apathy will be identified as the enemy of progress as has been seen with other agencies established by Act of Parliament such as the EFCC.
Finally, I must implore our reform minded President to give the bill his assent without delay once the legislators have finished their work. For according to Marcus Tullius Cicero ÔÇśthe safety and health of the people is the highest and greatest law'. It will be on record that it is your tenure of governance that brought workers a great succour