An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This age-old adage remains relevant to pretty much every area of human endeavour and is perhaps even more relevant to safety.

It is very early in 2021 and we are unfortunately back to talking about tanker fire accidents again with Tuesday’s explosion in Abeokuta and an earlier one in Lagos. The explosion in Abeokuta left 3 people dead, several others injured and a number of cars burnt.

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Is it frustrating talking about the same thing over and over again? Absolutely, yes!

Should we get tired of talking about it? Absolutely No!

The statistics from road tanker accidents in Nigeria makes every effort put into stemming the tide worthwhile.

With densely populated cities like ours characterized by heavy traffic, such incident, particularly at certain times of the day, is bound to leave multiple human casualties.

Imagine being stuck in traffic with an exploding tanker carrying 33000 litres of petrol or some other highly hazardous substance.

Nigeria’s accession to the agreement concerning the international carriage of dangerous goods by road (ADR) in 2018 renewed hopes that the country was finally on the path to getting it right with the safe road transport of hazardous materials. Two years down the line and not much can be said to have been achieved with regards to its full implementation.

There are many contributory factors to road tankers accidents and the road-worthiness of these tankers remains a major cause for concern.

One wonders how some of the tankers seen on our roads which are clearly not road worthy found their way there and if they ever underwent a proper ADR Inspection and are certified to carry hazardous materials.

Like many other countries, states in Nigeria have vehicle inspection programs which serve as a basis for determining the road-worthiness of vehicles but does this inspection include ADR inspections for applicable vehicles and their components, tanks etc?

Part 9 in Annex B of the ADR establishes provisions concerning transport equipment and transport operations which includes requirements for the approval of vehicles, testing and construction of vehicles etc.

A thorough inspection program is an important proactive step in the prevention of tanker accidents in Nigeria and the country must take steps to establish a reliable inspection and certification program for road vehicles carrying hazardous materials. When inspection is left undone, we are forced to rely solely on emergency response as we have always done.

For us to have a successful vehicle inspection program, government should take its hands totally off the provision of vehicle inspection services and license private organizations who have the right competencies and abilities and can invest in modern vehicle inspection technologies. The reports from these inspections can then be uploaded into a central database to curb falsification and easy verification during routine road enforcement by road safety officers. This also has the added advantage of creating professional and sustainable jobs considering the huge number of individuals who will be trained and employed to inspect the thousands of road tankers currently operating in the country. The United Kingdom has about 13 companies licensed to this inspection.

The Federal Road Safety Corps can then focus its energy on auditing the licensed vehicle inspection companies to ensure conformance to standards and delist non-conforming organizations. This will make the task of road enforcement easier.

Accident investigation can also become easier since it will be possible to first verify whether any tanker involved in an accident has undergone a mandatory inspection and is certified to carry hazardous materials. From the inspection reported uploaded on the database, the investigation can tell whether the inspection company did a thorough job. Where a vehicle has been found operating with either an expired certification or with no certification at all, this can serve as a basis for the prosecution of such tanker operators.

With the wrapping up of the UN decade of action on road safety (2011 – 2020), It would be interesting to note how well the country has fared in its road safety efforts and whether its accession to the ADR has contributed in any way to improved road safety in Nigeria.

It must be admitted that the proper implementation of the ADR in Nigeria will be no easy task but The Federal Road Safety corps needs to muster all the political will it can to protect innocent people from tanker operators unwilling to meet their obligation of duty of care and to support those who are willing but who do not know the right steps to take.

For now, when you drive past a road tanker, keep your attention at 100% and maintain a safe distance for truly no one knows when the next tanker explosion will occur.

Let him that has an ear hear!

Written by: Taiwo Folorunsho, Operations Manager at Hybrid-DGM Ghana Limited