Advancing Occupational Health and Safety Practice in Nigeria

Advancing Occupational Health and Safety Practice in Nigeria

In her pursuit of elevating Occupational Health and Safety, OHS, practice in Nigeria, Funmi Adegbola, an outstanding and thoroughbred professional in the field, has introduced a blueprint which she feels can strengthen Nigeria’s efforts in that respect. Kasim Sumaina examines this blueprint and how it can help boost OHS practice in the country

As both employers and employees become increasingly sensitive to workplace wellness and how it can impact productivity, the challenge of ensuring occupational health and safety has recently gained prominence even beyond work circles.

Essentially, OHS involves the whole gamut of wellness including physical and mental, of people at work as well as matters such as stress reduction, human resource development, and even rehabilitation.

It has become so critical that, how to better the occupational health and safety of workers worldwide has been a major concern of global organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), who decided to amend paragraph 2 of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998) to include “a safe and healthy working environment” as a fundamental principle and right at work.

While the WHO sees it as an area of work in public health to promote and maintain the highest ‌physical, mental, and social well-being of workers in all occupations, the ILO’s definition which largely aligns with that of the WHO says this can be achieved by preventing departures from health, controlling risks, and the adaptation of work to people, and people to their jobs.

In fact, to underline the seriousness of the subject matter, the federal government of Nigeria in 1994, ratified the ILO’s Convention No. 155 on OHS. Besides that is the Employees’ Compensation Act, 2010.The aforementioned, therefore shows that elevating safety standards in Nigeria, has become a critical national imperative.

Indeed, it can be argued that the nation’s growth and development hinge not only on economic progress, but also on the wellbeing and security of its citizens.The World Health Assembly and International Labour Organisation urges countries to develop national policies and action plans as well as build institutional capacities on occupational health and safety.

The body also encourages member countries to scale up the coverage with essential interventions for prevention and control of occupational and work-related diseases and injuries and occupational health services in collaboration with other relevant national health programmes. These include those dealing with communicable and non-communicable diseases, prevention of injuries, health promotion, mental health, environmental health, and health systems development.

In Nigeria, one of the drivers of positive changes when it comes to the issue of workers’ health and safety has been Funmi Adegbola, one of the 36 council members of the global professional Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Professionals (IOSH).

Adegbola, who holds a Masters Degree in Occupational Health, Safety and Environment from the University of Greenwich, London with a PhD in view, has a career spanning nearly two decades. Interestingly, she has had the privilege of driving substantial change within the realm of OHS, leaving an indelible mark on the organisations she served such as Amazon UK, IOSH, Lagos State Safety Commission to name a few.

Through dynamic strategies, collaborative efforts, and adaptable leadership styles, she has catalysed physical and cultural shifts that have redefined safety paradigms.

She told THISDAY that empowering people through knowledge exchange and supporting the IOSH local and informal membership network underscored a commitment to continuous improvement which she has tried to impart in her own little way.

“As such, the local membership network gained visibility and recognition from the parent body in the United Kingdom as it evolved into a thriving hub for professionals to exchange insights and best practices, contributing to a collective culture of excellence that led to its transition of being a formal network branch,” she adds.

By setting higher standards for quality and compliance, Adegbola has contributed to creating a safer and more secure working environment through innovative programmes and knowledge sharing.

She hinted that the introduction of regional OHS programmes and initiatives addressed critical knowledge gaps, enhancing the OHS profile of businesses. Notably, the organisation of the IOSH West Africa Conference 2020 which she led, Adegbola says, served as a cornerstone event, facilitating invaluable knowledge sharing and networking opportunities. “For me, formidable partnerships with government entities, including the establishment of a transformative partnership with the Lagos State Government (Safety Commission) stands as a monumental achievement.”

“In representing IOSH and diverse business sectors, this collaboration aimed to embed OHS principles at the core of businesses in Lagos State as well as nurturing a culture of safety and responsibility.”

“Also, influencing OHS maturity and standards, strategic counsel on existing policies and procedures played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s OHS maturity model particularly in Lagos State.”

“One of my proudest achievements is founding the Female Occupational Health Safety Coalition in Africa; Society of Women in Safety, Health and Environment Africa (SOWSHE-A). This initiative, rooted in a commitment to equity and inclusion, empowers women to enter and excel in the OSH field through coaching, mentorship, and capacity-building.”

She further says that serving as the primary point of contact for OHS matters primarily in the banking and financial sector has been quite fulfilling. The enhanced monitoring and accountability framework she introduced, such as metrics and KPIs she introduced for exceptional monitoring of OHS performance on behalf of the Lagos State Safety Commission showcased a resolute commitment to accountability that is possible when the right resources are deployed,” Adegbola adds.

Adegbola has also ensured transparent communication and effective management, revenue generation through the introduction of an occupational health and safety compliance standard she drafted for the Lagos State Government (Safety Commission). According to her, these have had far-reaching impacts.

Beyond enhancing workplace safety, the OHS professional noted that it also generated revenue through a continuous improvement audit scheme, demonstrating the economic benefits of robust safety practices and advising the government on the next steps.

“Fostering a culture of safety through public-private partnerships, the government, as the custodian of public interest, holds the authority to enact and enforce regulations that safeguard the wellbeing of its citizens. As such, by working in tandem with health and safety professional bodies such as ISPON, IOSH to name a few; the government can develop and implement comprehensive regulatory frameworks that cover a wide range of industries, ensuring compliance with global best practices,” she explains.

“In addition, health and safety professionals, in collaboration with the government, can spearhead initiatives to promote safety consciousness at all levels of society.”

Besides, she also points out that a culture of safety is cultivated through consistent education, awareness campaigns, and leading by example. “These include educational institutions, workplaces, public spaces, and even within homes. Collaboration between the government and private sector entities is crucial for holistic safety improvement. Health and safety professionals can serve as liaisons, facilitating dialogue and cooperative efforts between public and private stakeholders,” she notes. 

Together, she argues that they can pool resources, share expertise, and work towards common safety objectives. Adegbola further expressed this by saying, “this is why the inauguration of the new Federal House of Representatives Committee on Occupational Health and Safety is a timely and welcomed idea. She is also very humbled and excited to be invited as the lead consultant to support the Committee on delivering its mandate.”

While making recommendations for government Initiatives, Adegbola said she believes that valuable insights for a forward thinking government seeking to introduce strong health and safety initiatives should focus on strategic collaborations. 

This she explains can be done by forging partnerships with industry leaders and organisations to embed OHS principles within businesses, creating a culture of safety consciousness. She also argued on the side of raising the bar on standards and compliance, contending that there should be higher standards for quality and compliance, influencing OHS maturity and creating a safer working environment for all through the promotion of knowledge sharing and networking. 

“They can organise events and conferences that facilitate knowledge sharing and networking among OHS and non-OSH professionals, creating a community dedicated to excellence”

.“Emphasis should be on accountability and transparency. We need to implement robust monitoring tools and key performance indicators to ensure accountability and transparency in OHS practices,” she argues.

Indeed, Adegbola appears to stand as a testament to the transformative power of visionary leadership, equality, equity and strategic initiatives.By adopting similar strategies, the Nigerian government, she says, can introduce strong health and safety initiatives, fostering a culture of safety that safeguards the wellbeing of its citizens and propels the nation towards greater prosperity.


Indeed, it can be argued that the nation’s growth and development hinge not only on economic progress, but also on the wellbeing and security of its citizens.The World Health Assembly and International Labour Organisation urges countries to develop national policies and action plans as well as build institutional capacities on occupational health and safety

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