With the “developing economy” status of some African countries, it should normally be expected that many aspects of the economies of African countries will look up to those of the developed world, with the aim of learning from ideas and principles that have been successfully implemented by these developed countries. These learnings apply to the different aspects of the economies of African countries – Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) inclusive. A vital point of note is how well Africa has actually learnt, if at all much learning and implementation is taking place. Over the years, there has been improvement in OHS practice in Africa. Even though the improvement is not as much as is required, the fact is that there has been improvement, and there are entities and situations responsible for driving this improvement.
Organisations (Multinationals) in Africa
Globalisation has seen quite a number of foreign organisations make entry into Africa and on the flip side, organisations indigenous to Africa have equally sprung up, setting up factories, construction companies, oil and gas/servicing companies and so on. This makes a lot of business sense – Africa with a combined population of over 1 billion, relatively untapped resources and a “developing world” status is a wise business destination choice for a lot of organisations including indigenous companies that have taken advantage of the situation of the continent. A typical example is the discovery of oil in Nigeria in 1956, which subsequently led to the establishment of international oil and gas exploration companies in Nigeria, some of which are credited with the introduction of occupational health and safety into the country. As the world advances in technology, agitation for safer ways of production and doing business continue to grow which has caused organisations in developed economies to improve their approach to OHS. This improvement has somewhat been replicated in Africa. This replication has become necessary for these organisations, as the world continues to be more and more of a global village and global influences are on the rise. So, these multinational organisations with their established OHS systems, make effort to replicate their systems in Africa, which also makes business sense, as an accident in one country can have impact on the reputation of the organisation in another country, thereby affecting their bottom line.
Individual OHS Professionals
Quite a number of people have made entry into the OHS profession, although still a budding field in Africa. Many of these professionals have sought qualifications abroad. This is essentially because qualifications in Africa are not yet of international quality, so more needs to be done in that regard. Qualifications from developed countries have equally given the African OHS professionals requisite international relevance. An interesting occurrence with the international qualifications and in some cases, experience is that these individual OHS professionals are utilising their experience and practice to further improve OHS in Africa.
Some of these professionals who are members of international OHS bodies have organised themselves into groups within Africa and some of these groups have begun making influence and impact that is spreading. These groups are run with much focus on OHS professionalism that can compete in any part of the world.
The Role of OHS Laws
Unlike other previously discussed drivers of OHS in Africa, where quite some improvements have been achieved, OHS laws in most parts of the continent have become seriously outdated and in need of complete overhaul. A lot of these laws are no longer relevant in the current realities of our technology driven world. Part of the problem stems from the enactment and enforcement of these laws at the beginning. These laws were ill-conceived in the sense that their actual purpose was not well understood or thought out, thereby making commitment to enforcement difficult if not impossible. There is no doubting the fact that well thought out OHS laws that are effectively enforced will lead to improvement in OHS in Africa, examples can be drawn from places like the United Kingdom (UK), Europe or the United States of America (USA).
The solution although simple, requires a lot of commitment. We have to start by making clear, the purpose of every single piece of OHS legislation that will be developed (with the input of seasoned OHS professionals), mixed with some political will and responsibility. If this is achieved, enforcement will not be as difficult as it has been.
In other parts of the world, OHS laws have tremendously driven OHS, but that cannot really be said of Africa and that has to change. People die or get injured or become ill every day in Africa from workplace incidents and agents and there is no adequate capture of the data.
As OHS is being driven, not only will accurate statistics be captured, but cases of injuries, death and ill-health will drastically reduce.
Written by: Isaac Ojo Ogboadayegbe, Operations Coordinator, Hybrid HSE