AN EXAMINATION OF HEALTH, SAFETY AND WELFARE AT WORK PLACES IN NIGERIA: A CALL FOR URGENT ATTENTION

Abstract:

In a populated Country like Nigeria, safety is one of the most important needs of human being today, especially in organizations, offices, factories, or other places or interstate transportation including the training, supervision and qualification of such persons. In order to achieve personal, collective and professional goals, to improve the structure of work environment in Nigeria and to sustain one’s or collective living conditions in an appropriate and suitable manner, it is sacrosanct to take into consideration the legal aspects of health, safety and welfare of employees. In particular, the article noted the laudable contributions in which various legislations in Nigeria have made over the years in ensuring safety of its welfare members. In the main, the author, argued that, despite the commendable provisions of the Factories Act of 2004, the Employees Compensation Act of 2010, the Minerals Oil Safety Regulation of 1999, the Harmful Waste Act of 2004, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and other extant laws, workers still fraught at the inability of factories, offices, to put in place accessible measures to ensure safety at work places. The author, accordingly, recommends for redress by the employees as it relate to the terms and provisions of their employment at place of work whenever there is a breached, how and where to seek for redress following such breached. All of these require practical effects and urgent attention in order to ensure safety of workers. Again, labour union at different levels of government, human rights organizations, and other non-governmental agencies should come forth to sensitize workers of their rights, privileges, and protection as stipulated by the law.

  1. INTRODUCTION

By virtue of section 17 (3) (b) (c) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)[1] states that “the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that; (b) conditions of work are just and humane, and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life; (c) the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are not endangered or abuse in anyway. The provisions stipulated in the Constitution and other acts regarding health, safety and welfare of workers in Nigeria do not really capture every aspect relating to the protection of workers engaged by an employer with the mandate of delivering positive function and punishment to defaulter who are lacking in dispatch of their responsibilities as provided in the terms and conditions at their work place.

In fairness to the legislative arm of the Federation, Nigeria has formulated various laws aimed at ensuring the protection of the rights of workers starting with the provision of the Constitution as stated above. Similarly, where an employee feels or perceives a work place to be unfriendly and dangerous to his health, safety and well being, he or she has the right to discontinue with such an engagement.

  1. NATURE AND SCOPE OF WORK PLACE IN NIGERIA

The importance of work to man in our modern era and man to work cannot be overemphasized. Because of this essentiality of work, employees tend to spend most of their time in the work environment. By the provision of section 87 of the Factories Act,[2] the expression ‘Factory’ means and includes any of the following premises in which ten or more persons are employed. That is to say:

  1. Any yard or dry dock including the precincts thereof in which ships or vessels are constructed, reconstructed, repaired, refitted , finished or broken up;
  2. Any provisions in which the business of washing or refilling bottles or packaging articles is carried on incidentally to the purpose of the factory;
  3. Any premises in which the construction, reconstruction or repairs of locomotives, vehicles or other industrial undertaking;
  4. Any premises in which printing by letter press or other similar process for the purpose of gain or incidental to other business so carried on;
  5. Any premises in which mechanical power is used in connection with the making or repair of articles of metal or wood for the purpose of gain;
  6. Any premises in which articles are made incidentally to the carrying on, of building operations, not being premises in which operations are being carried on;
  7. Any premises in which such persons are employed for the purpose of generating electricity energy supply by way of trade;
  8. Any premises in which mechanical power is used for the purpose of water supply, being premises in which such person(s) are employed; and
  9. Any laundry carried on as ancillary to another business.

Now, it is difficult from the above provisions as stated above to state what kind of works to be regarded as manual labour and which are not, since most occupation are composed of both elements to a varying degrees. In a premise where occupations of various kinds are being carried on at the same premises, courts will, in such circumstances and depending on each case, determine which of the employment is fit for that purpose in which the premises were used. In the case of Joyce Vs. Boots Cash Chemists (Southon) Ltd[3].In this case the plaintiff was a porter at the defendant chemist shop. Five other persons were employed there, but the plaintiff was the only one whose work could be described as manual labour. The court stated that the test to be applied when the premises is being used for mixed labour was whether the employment of persons in manual labour was the substantial purpose for which the premises used. Since the porter work was incidental to the main purpose of the premises, the shop was held not to be factory.

In different vein, in the case of Pullen Vs. Prison Commissioners[4]  where an ex-prisoner brought an action against the prison commissioners alleging that the tuberculosis he had contracted was as a result of the dust to which he had been exposed while working in a prison workshop. It was held that the prison workshop was not a factory within the meaning of the Act since there was no relationship of master and servant, or employment for wages in the case of the prisoner.

However, it should be note that the Minister of Labour Matters may by order extend the application of all or any of the provisions of the Factories Act to any premise, such premises shall by such extension be regarded as a factory and shall be held responsible for any act as to health, safety and welfare of its employees in the premises.

2.1 FACTORIES, ORGANIZATIONS, AND OFFICES SAFETY AS A DETERMINANT FOR ENFORCEMENT PROCEDURES OF HEALTHY WORK IN NIGERIA

Factory and organizational health is a key factor that can help businesses boost their performance in different work places in Nigeria. It covers a wide range of particular qualities that make up a forwarding thinking, cooperative, dynamic, and innovative factories that are both high functioning and high performing in a short and long term goals.

The Factories Act makes provisions for the enforcement of healthy conditions in every work place that falls within its definition. This is because the powers of inspection and that of the Director and Inspectors in the enforcement of the provisions of the Act are essential and are clearly stated as follows:

  1. To enter, inspect and examine, by day or by night, a factory, and every part thereof, whenever there is  a reasonable cause to believe that explosives are stored or used;
  2. To take with him a police officer if  he has reasonable cause to apprehend any serious obstruction in the execution of his duty;
  3. To required the production of the registers.
  4. To make such examination as to ascertain whether the provisions of the Act are complied with;
  5. To require any person whom he finds in the factory to give such information as to who is the occupier of the factory;
  6. To examine any person, either alone or in the presence of any person, as he thinks fit, to sign a declaration of truth of the matters respecting which he is to examined;
  7. In the case of an inspector who is a medical practitioner, to carry out such medical examinations as may be necessary for the purposes of his duty;
  8. To carry out examinations, test and analysis in order to give effects to the provisions of the Act;
  9. To exercise such other powers as may be necessary for giving full effect to the provision of the Act.[5]

Also, the Act provides for the power to issue improvement and prohibition notices given to the Inspector under the Act. The prohibition notices in such cases so issued is capable of prohibiting the carrying on any process or work as the case may be either definitely or until such steps as noted in the notice are satisfied. The notice may also be revoked on the application of the occupier or owner of the factory after satisfying the conditions with due regard to the safety of persons employed therein.

Again, it should be note, that a person on whom a notice is served either for improvement or prohibition, is aggrieved, may appeal against such notice first to the Minister in charge of Labour Matters and it is only when not satisfied before an application can be made to the Federal High Court. Also, the Inspector has the power to conduct proceedings before the Magistrate Court either or not he is a legal practitioner in respect to the subject matter[6]. In the court, as the case may be, the prosecution must prove not only that the notice has not been complied with, but that also the requirements of the notice were validly imposed with the relevant statutory provisions with regard to the health and safety of those employed in the said premises were affected by the notice.[7]

2.2 THE RATIONALE OF EMPLOYEES COMPENSATION ACT 2010

            The Employee’s Compensation Act (hereinafter known as the Act) 2011 actually repeals the Women’s Compensation Act of 2004. The Act made numerous contributions which are important to employee’s compensation as follows:

                        A person employed in any factory or office by an

Employer under any oral or written contract of employment

                        Whether on a continuous, part time job, temporary, apprenticeship

Or casual basis and includes a domestic servant who is not a member of the family of the employer including any person employed in the Federal, State and Local Government, and any of the government agencies and in the formal and informal sectors of the economy shall be entitled to compensation as stipulated by law.

Now, the provisions of the Act as stated above are applicable to all employers and employees in the public and private sectors of the economy with the exception of the armed forces who are employed in a civilian capacity and who are not statutorily covered under the provision of this Act. Therefore, the Act provides for the compensation of employees (or their dependants) in respect to any incidents as it relates to death, injury or disease that may arise in the course of their duty or employment. 

3.1 THE PURPOSE AND IMPORTANCE OF SAFETY AT WORK PLACE IN NIGERIA

Safety constitutes one of the essential human needs. In an attempt to satisfy this need certain organization incorporate the purpose into their day to day policy thrusts, guaranteeing workers’ safe work execution under a climate capable of enhancing the employer’s physical, and his mental and emotional conditions. In the case of  Woodward Vs Renold[8], the employers failed to grit, in icy weather, that area of their car park which was near to a foot path extensively used by their employees to walk up to the works’ entrance. The court held that the employers were in breached of their responsibility to keep the working environment safe and healthy and were therefore liable for damages of their employees for the injuries suffered as a result of slipping on the icy car park.

It now follows, that the duty of providing safety and means of access in a place of work is to do only that which is reasonably and practicable in the circumstances of each case. But in all cases, the onus of proof rests on the employer and it can be proved by showing among others that it was not reasonably practicable for it to provide safe place at work.

3.2 THE BASIS PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES TO ENSURE HEALTH, SAFETY AND WELFARE OF EMPLOYEES AT WORK PLACE IN NIGERIA: A CALL FOR URGENT ATTENTION

The precautionary measure of safety and health at work place in Nigeria from all known facts is anchored on the curtailment at work place. This is because, it is possible and can only be achieved when every work operation is guided by appropriate laws and regulations that is duly enforced without bias and adequately complied with by all and sundry, including the policy makers, employers of labour and employees.

To prevent industrial accidents and ensure safety and well being of workers in industrial premises, a number of safety measures must be put in place for occupiers of factories, organizations and offices as contained in the Factory Act, Minerals Safety Regulation Act of 1999, Harmful Waste Management Act of 2004. The brief list of the measures to be taking to ensure safety of employees at work place are by no means exhausted, but the author graciously believe that its importance in this discourse can provide incentives for further discussion. Therefore, they are as follows:

3.2. a. Adequate Training and Supervision of Workers    

This measure is not particularly applicable to inexperienced workers.  In order to ensure this measure, the terms and conditions of the work must provide that no person shall be employed at any process, being a machine or process liable to cause bodily injury unless such employees has been fully instructed as to the dangers which are likely to arise in connection of his work and the necessary precautions must be observed therein. Therefore, to make this possible, sufficient training by expert to the employee(s) must be adhered to with a thorough knowledge and experience of the machine or other equipments in the premises[9].  

3.2. b. Provision of First Aid Facilities

            For the purpose of welfare of workers and non workers at work place, and in order to ensure quick response to injuries at offices and industrial places, it is sacrosanct that a first aid box or cupboard of the prescribed standard be provided and maintained for quick response of injuries that might arise. By virtue of section 7 of Harmful Waste Act, makes provision for punishment accordingly, of any conniving, consenting or negligent officer where the offences is committed by a company, especially in cases of harmful waste in the air, or premises. Therefore, from the provisions of section 43 (4) b of the Factories Act, a first aid box or cupboard is to be provided for each work room within the premises.

3.2. c. Fencing of Machinery at Work’s Place

The provision of sections 14-17 of the Factories Act provides for an absolute duty and responsibility on the owner of factory or office to fence the prime movers, transmission machinery and every dangerous part of the machinery. Here, every dangerous part of any machinery shall be securely fenced unless it is in such a position to be safe for every person employed or working in the premises as it would be if securely fenced. In Wearing Vs. Pirelli,[10] here the plaintiff was employed by the defendant to work on a machine which moulded and formed rubber for the purpose of making tyres. The machine was defective in that the automatic process had to be assisted by the use of a hand tool. This tool was eventually jerked out to be plaintiff’s hand while he was manually engaged in the process and his wrist was injured. The revolving drum which was involved in the process was not fenced. Consequently, the plaintiff’s claimed that the defendants were in breach of their statutory duty to fence the machine. The House of Lords held that the injury had been caused by the revolving drum and its fabric covering was an irrelevance.

It should be note that the purpose of fencing under the Factory Act and other extant laws is to protect the safety of worker or any other person in any industrial premises.

3.2. d. Total Prohibition of Meals in Certain Dangerous Places at Work Premises

            In cases, where in any industrial room any injurious substance is always used to give rise to any dust, no person shall be permitted to partake of food or drink in that room. In cases, where no canteen services are provided the welfare of the employees within the law requires for an adequate and clean environment  for their health and safety to be provided in such cases.

3.2. e. Adequate Provision of Protective Clothing and Appliances

            It is the requirement of the law that adequate provision of protective and appliances should be made available by the owner of any factory, this is because employees employed therein shall in the entire process of their task, be exposed to various forms of offensive substance, therefore, providing accessible appliances and cloths are capable of reducing or completely taking away serious risk to such employees. Such appliances include, but not limited to, suitable and soft hand gloves, footwear, helmet or head covering as well other protective cloths.

4.1 CONCLUSION 

The health, safety and well being of workers in a work place is a common law duty imposed on an employer of labour to ensure that the employees are safe while carrying out their assignment. This is because; it is believed that the employees will be exposed to different kind of risk at work places. Therefore, offices, factories or industries should no longer be an environment for injury and death setting for employees or visitors for the purpose of meeting their target.

The Trade Unions as a matter of fact and urgency should endevour to unionise all employees or workers at different units in Nigeria so as to enable them enforce their rights. Fortunately, section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as (amended), Article 10 of African Charter on Human and People Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act) 1990 as well as International Labour Organization Conventions 87 and 98 guarantee the right of employers (including contract and agency staff) to join trade union for their protection.

5.1 RECOMMENDATIONS

Flowing from the legal issues raised and examined in this work. The brief list of recommendations by the researcher is by no means exhausted but rather it would go a long way to improving factories, offices and industrial health, safety, protection and well being of employees at their work places in Nigeria. The recommendations are pertinent and they are as follows:

  1. Adequate training is needed as a matter of urgency among workers, this is because most of the workforce especially the factory workers lack the basic knowledge and understanding of the machineries in the premises. Pasting just information on the various boards either in the factory or outside the factory containing information on the operating standard and procedures are not enough or sufficient, this is because some of these workers cannot read or write to the extent of understanding how industrial machines work.
  2. The procedure(s) of employees’ enforceability of his rights and privileges should not be technical in nature but rather flexible in order to achieve substantial justice.
  3. Again, the Federal Ministry of Labour should rise up to their day to day duty and responsibility for periodic inspection of work in sensitive environment and Factories in order to ensure strict compliance of the factory rules and conditions and also pay appropriate compensation to the victims of occupational hazard through industrial activities that might affect them via:
  4.  Faulty equipment;
  5. Inadequate ventilation;
  6. Noise from heavy machine;
  7. Improper disposal or management of industrial wastes e.t.c
  8. Adequate and constant medical screening should be done periodically to ascertain the mental state of the workers health. This is because; most of the environmental hazards in work places gradually affect the health being workers without them knowing. Therefore, if this could be done in time is going to go a long way to salvage the lives of the workers at their work place.

1 The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)

2 Factories Act, Section 87

3 (1950) 2 All ER 719

4 (1957) 1 WLR 116,

5 Section 65 of the Factories Act Cap. 126 LFN 1990

6 Supra

7  Paul v. Weymouth and Portland Council (1979) Environmental Health Journal, p.234

8 (1980) 1 CR 387

9 Section 23   of the Factories Act Cap. 126 LFN 1990

10 (1977) 1 All ER 339

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