Work hazards are physical, emotional or psychological work-related dangers that employees are exposed to in the course of their duties. Ruth Tene Natsa writes on the various challenges confronting workers in the sector.
Work hazards vary from environment to environment just as its impact on the workers.
In mining sites, particularly, workers are exposed to flying debris, falls, crushing, scratches and even buried alive as a result of mines collapse.
Workers are also affected by exposures to various toxic and life threatening chemicals during mining activities as could be seen in the deaths of over 400 children who were exposed to lead poisoning in 2009 in Zamfara State.
While the safety of workers is a policy issue, there is no discounting the fact that it is also a fundamental human right issue which should be looked at and enforced from a moral and political perspective. The Nigerian Mining and Mineral Act provides that mining employers provide employees with proper gears, such as protective boots, hard gloves, helmets for the heads, cover alls, protective goggles, among several others and yet the ministry is not sufficiently empowered to enforce implementation of this rights to mine workers.
As a result very few companies adhere to this rules and most often workers are exposed to very difficult and dangerous working conditions. In fact companies are often not held liable when workers, as a result of their carelessness, fall victim to some of these hazards. Illiteracy also has its roles in this in that sometimes workers are provided with the necessary kit up but fail to use them. It is not until they are hurt that they remember they have them. The situation is also worsened by the lack of policies to protect Nigerian workers in the work place. As such, many foreign companies take advantage of the weak policy environment to take advantage of citizens, exposing them to various challenges.
The fact that the mining sector is over-run by informal, and in some cases illegal miners, make it almost impossible to demand for the adherance to proper kitting and due process in mines, coupled with the near absence of government policies to protect workers in mines and Nigerian as a whole. A quarry mine worker in Abuja with a Chinese Mining Company, Mallam Rabo Mahmud (not real name), said that his employers are only concerned with the profit and do not care about what happens to their employees on site.
“They gave us gears in 2012 and right now mine are all bad. I have applied for another set but they have not provided them and there is nothing I can do about it. Whether they provide the kits or not I have to work and meet my quota or risk losing my job and there are no jobs lying around to be picked up,” he said.
True as that is, one may also argue that there are no spare eyes, legs or body parts lying around to be picked. So it is necessary that workers demand proper kits to protect themselves from the various hazards they could be exposed to. This little or no existing laws is what has led to the call for the Labour Safety, Health Welfare Bill which seeks to protect Nigerian workers from hazards associated with their jobs. It also provides that employers who are in breach of relevant sections of law will be liable to not less than one year imprisonment or to a fine not less than N500,000.
The Senate had on September 27, 2012, passed a bill seeking to cater for the safety, health and welfare of Nigerian workers which would compel employers to pay a fine of N5 million or face three years imprisonment for any person killed or who suffers severe injury resulting from a contravention by the employer.
Speaking with journalists during the Sustainable Academy/Home School#5, with the theme “Health and the Extractive Sector Worker,” an intellectual and labour/health activist, Comrade Baba Aye, said, “The safety and health of workers was focal to central growth and development as the consequences of extractive activities infringed on the health and economy of the nation which was losing more than it was gaining as a result of the loss to lives.”
It goes without saying that the nation is losing far more than it is gaining as a result of the attendant hazards to unprotected workers.
Source : Leadership