APPRAISAL OF EMPLOYERS’ LIABILITY FOR INJURIES RESULTING FROM BREACH OF NIGERIAN INDUSTRIAL SAFETY LAWS
1.1 Background of the Study
Across all sectors of the economy, workers are sometimes, if not often involved in industrial accidents. Such accidents range from minor to fatal leading to the loss of life and limb. Industrial accidents are traceable to the period of Industrial Revolution which was the transition to new manufacturing processes from 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840 in England. During this period, crude machinery invented was used in industrial production.
Over the centuries machinery for the production of goods and services has improved tremendously but such improved machinery brought with it its own hazards to industrial safety. Stake holders in developed countries improve in their knowledge and skills to keep abreast with the rapid development while their counterparts in the developing countries seem to advance slowly in this regard, this may be as a result of the sociological and socioeconomic factors.
In Nigeria for instance, some workers as a result of unemployment and poverty do all manner of work to earn a living without considering the nature of the job and or the workplace environment which may pose some health challenges to them. Employers are legally under a duty to see to the safety of their employees. Thus the English Court in the case of Wilsons & Clyde Coal & Co Ltd v English held that there are three main duties of an employer to the employee; provision of competent staff, adequate plant and safe system of work[. However, employers tend to prefer the maximization of profits to the safety of the employees. This seems to be the reason why industrial safety is treated with much levity by Nigerian employers.
For example the fire incident that razed a plastic factory in Ikorodu, Lagos in 2002 when many workers were roasted to death at night because the Chinese owners of the company locked the workers in the factory and went to sleep at their secured resident guarded by policemen. Although members of the National Assembly and officials of the Federal Ministry of Labour visited the factory, yet the employers seem not to be held liable for the abrupt death of their employees as nothing seems to have been done to the employers. On the 27th of April, 2015 101.9FM radio Station was bombed and about four media practitioners on their legitimate duties died in the blast. Yes, one would say it was a work place accident, but would it not have been avoided if adequate safety measures were put in place? More recently, Yomi Olomofe of Prime Magazine was attacked and thoroughly battered at the office of the Nigerian Customs& Excise at the Nigerian- Benin border in Seme where he was investigating a matter.
These are a few of the several deaths and accidents that occur always in the various industries in Nigeria and beyond and in most cases little or no compensation is paid to the victims or their dependants. The issue of safety in Nigerian industries should be of paramount importance and industrial safety machines should keep abreast with the changing technological means of production of goods and services. In turn this should lead to improvement of working conditions and safe place of work. Industrial safety can be achieved through concerted efforts of the employers and employees enabled by relevant legislation. In this regard the government enacts enabling law on safety to be enforced by relevant government agencies. Accordingly, this would make the employees adhere to the rules of industrial safety while working for optimal productivity. Employers should come to terms to this very important issue of industrial safety, knowing their liabilities when they are in breach. Employees should also imbibe the properly managed safety culture based on tested principles of workplace or industrial safety. This will lead to developing effective control measures and feeling a sense of responsibility for their safety and of others.
According to Fajana in his paper “Safety at Work: Issues and Challenges. “Accepting safety as a responsibility demonstrates a sincere concern for each employee, which establishes the foundation for an effective culture”. This research is titled, “Appraisal of Employers’ Liability for Injuries Resulting from Breach of Nigerian Industrial Safety Laws”. It also goes ahead to discuss compensation and enforceability of the rights of the employees when these laws are breached.