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Feature Article of Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Columnist: Amegah, Ishmael Setsoafia

Health, Safety and Environment in the Oil and Gas Industry

Health, Safety and Environment in the Oil and Gas Industry: Ghana Sitting on A Time Bomb?

Author: Ishmael Setsoafia Amegah, Student MSc. Oil and Gas Management, Cert. Managing Safely, IOSH (UK). Email: ishmael.amegah@yahoo.com

Introduction

There have been a lot of debates on Ghana’s fledging oil and gas industry. Most of these debates bordered on the use of petroleum revenue, environmental impact of the oil and gas industry and recently the social impact and benefits due communities around the production site. What is conspicuously missing surprisingly though is the health and safety of both personnel and property during the exploration and production process. This article is aimed at bringing to the fore some pertinent issues regarding occupational health and safety in Ghana and most importantly the petrochemical industry of Ghana.

Accidents, disasters and occupational ill-health are global phenomena and occur at any time. However, accidents in general and especially those with catastrophic impacts are not unpredictable or an ‘Act of God’. Accidents occur principally from interaction between human, technological and organisational arrangement (Reason, 1998). The identification of and preparedness for these accidents would either prevent their occurrence or mitigate the impact in the case that they do occur. The major stakeholders in Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) could be identified as (a) the state (b) the business/organisation (c) employee(s) (d) environment/society. So therefore, there are moral, legal and business implications to health, safety and environment practice. Countries with successful HSE records were able to achieve their feat by establishing robust regulatory regimes with enough enforcement powers and competent personnel.

Institutional Gap

Ghana currently has no comprehensive health, safety and environment policy which would provide standards or guide to be adhered to by industry. What exist today, are pieces of out-dated legislations and regulations such as the Environmental Protection Agency Act (Act 490), Mining Regulations Act 1970 LI 665 and Factories, Offices and Shops Act, LI 328 which are sector focused and therefore cannot be enforced across board. Apart from EPA, much has not been heard or seen of the rest of the agencies mandated to enforce the Acts mentioned above. This may be as a result of lack of resources and logistics as is always the excuse of most enforcement agencies in the country and more importantly ‘non-applicability’ of some of these laws. The inability of these agencies to perform their oversight responsibilities and strictly enforce compliance at their respective sectors coupled with the absence of a comprehensive regime (public and private) have brought untold hardships, pain, suffering and in some cases death to some employees and their families. Parents have left home to work and never returned, people have lost their lives, hands and other body parts whilst discharging their duties at work, needless to talk about the numerous deaths resulting from stress, heart attacks and other work related illnesses. The case of the Fire Service officer who fell from heights and died around the Cedi House in 2010 and most recently a worker who died in the hot steel he was carrying at the Tema Steel Company (Joy mid-day news, April 06, 2011)are issues to be concerned with. To make matters worse,, many of these issues never get reported or recorded for necessary lessons to be drawn (to avoid recurrence) let alone be investigated for appropriate compensations to be paid to victims. The rate of development and industrialisation require a national health and safety policy framework that allows for the establishment of an independent authority with the mandate to develop HSE standards, regulate and enforce compliance in all sectors of operation.

The private sector in Ghana is increasingly growing. There are increasing number of SME’s and Multinational Companies operating in Ghana due to the favourable economic conditions that exist in Ghana’s economy-manufacturing, Food and beverage, Construction, Mining, Transport and Logistics, Service Agro processing and now oil and gas. More so, the oil and gas sector is expected to be the driver of the country’s ‘industrialisation agenda’. With reliable and secured energy, stable political system and low labour cost, Ghana will definitely be the preferred choice for multinational oil companies looking for strategic investment opportunities.

With all these developments, Ghana still has no national agency or authority, policy, established process and procedures, frameworks or guidelines that govern occupational health and safety in the country. There are Environmental Protection Agency Act 1994 (Act 490), Mining Regulations Act 1970 LI 665 and Factories, Offices and Shops Act, LI 328, Ghana Labour Act 2003, Act 651 and other fragmented safety guidelines which have not been effectively implemented (Annan, 2010). This lack of effective implementation could be attributed to the fact that most of these legislative instruments were crafted using legislations of some developed nations based on best practices. But then, the cultural difference (risk perception and safety culture) that exist between Ghana and these countries always make enforcement difficult. So in essence we have ‘good laws’ on paper which technically and practically cannot be enforced. Also, most of these regulations are out-of-date and need urgent overhaul or review to conform to modern trends. Another significant characteristic of the health and safety regime in Ghana is its pathological nature of handling accidents whilst most countries have moved on to proactive and generative stages of managing health and safety. What this means is that, accidents occur, people get killed or fatally injured, property are destroyed and investigations are conducted in some cases but nothing gets done.

Our safety culture as a nation is very appalling. We only get to wake up to it when there is a major disaster or accident, mostly fire related. Organisations regularly flout safety rules and expose their employees to lots of hazards thereby breaching their “duty of care” to the employees. Individual employees also compromise their own safety at work place by acting ‘unsafely’. “Most companies lack Health and Safety facilities and though there were some laws binding Occupational Safety and Health, the environment of enforcement and sanctions regime made it very difficult to be complied with”- These were the words of the Executive Director of Ghana Employers Association (Sheqafrica.com, 28 October, 2008). If our developmental agenda is to be realised, then there need to be a safety culture paradigm that is proactive and holistic in nature. This could be achieved through; –Education i.e safety orientation and awareness creation, -Encouragement by motivating employers and employees to pursue safety, re-Engineering of processes and modifying them to suit peoples’ culture and finally -Enforcement with the whip.

Building a Safety Culture lo, ‘/

Obviously, there is an urgent need for a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) legislation and establishment of a national body to regulate HSE matters in Ghana. The legislation is expected to impose general obligations in relation to health, safety and welfare in the workplace. There are probably four groups of stakeholders involved in this process and each needs to actively participate in order to have an effective safety management system in place: - law makers, law enforcers, interpreters of the legal statutes and those who have to comply with the law.

Dent

The Law Makers-The law makers, mainly made up of the executive and the legislature have to appreciate the urgent need for HSE regulation and take immediate steps to initiate measures to prevent workplace accidents and deaths. The government should immediately institute a committee of experts in HSE and labour issues to draft a national policy on occupational health, safety and environment. It is obvious that it is of little worth to have a law that no one knows about and no one enforces. It is therefore paramount that the law be made simple using best practices across the world and ‘our own’ cultural values and norms. We need to move away from the ‘cut and paste’ syndrome which leaves us with nothing but beautiful laws that cannot be enforced simply because they do not fit our cultural setting.

Law Enforcers- This group of persons add ‘flesh’ to the law. It includes the police, the national regulatory agencies, the local authorities/governments and other associated agencies. Laws do not work by themselves, they are enforced. It is imperative that a dedicated agency be established to oversee the implementation and regulation of the proposed HSE laws in Ghana. This institution should be a-political and independent and must be heavily resourced to be able to conduct regular inspections. Its staff should be highly trained and motivated for efficient delivery and discharge of duty. If they are highly trained and well remunerated, they would conduct themselves professionally and not fall victims to bribery. All across the world, the success or otherwise of a regulatory regime is dependent on its enforcement machinery.

Interpreters of the legal statutes-This category is made up of the judicial system, state attorneys and law practitioners in general. These persons determine whether the law is broken and also provide legal interpretation. There must be a smooth and swift process for cases relating HSE issues. The system should be such that HSE cases are given quicker turn-around time as it will affect business continuity in some instances. The situation where practitioners use all gimmicks and gymnastics (undue delays on grounds of technicality) to derail and stall the wheel of justice system should be discouraged. Subjects of the law- This last group of persons would include both employers and employees and perhaps the self-employed and the larger society. From the big multinational companies, partnerships and SME’s to enterprises and one-man businesses. They are those whose lives would be impacted by any hazardous exposure. Accidents are not caused by things but rather by human activities. For this reason, it is important for this last group to conduct business in such a manner that lives and property would be protected under both local and international laws. Organisations must invest in the safety of their employees as they owe a ‘duty of care’ by providing a safe work environment as reasonably as practicable. Employees in the same vein owe it to themselves and their employers to perform ‘safe acts’ and not to put their lives in jeopardy. Organisations committed to this course would record all incidents and accidents including ‘near misses’ and report critical ones to the regulatory agency. It is also required that organisations conduct hazard analyses regularly in order to review and update their safety policy. To this end, Ghanaian organisations should start creating a safety desk that will be dedicated to health and safety issues in the organisation. Another way of achieving this is for organisations to merge this role with quality assurance to become Quality Health and Safety (QHSE) in order to save cost.

Conclusion

Accidents at work and occupational ill-health are costly to employers, employees and their families in particular and the nation at large. Management of health and safety is therefore crucial and a must for business continuity as losses from a major incident could ruin a company. It is about time we took the safety and welfare of the Ghanaian worker serious especially those predisposed to hazardous working environment such as the mines, pharmaceutical, construction, manufacturing and petrochemical industries. It is an established fact that offshore exploration and production is synonymous with hazards and has claimed several lives at places where there were supposed ‘good safety practices’. For instance, the collapse of the “Sea Gem”, loss divers on the “Byford Dolphin”, the collapse of the Piper Alpha platform killing about 167 persons on board, The Exxon-Valdez wreck , the “Deep water Horizon spill” and the “Kosmos spill” among the rest are events that should guide us in the drafting and promulgation of safety laws in Ghana. We need a system that will ensure a safe, secure, healthy and environmentally sound performance in the oil and gas industry. For if anyone thinks safety is expensive, let him/her try accident.

Bibliography

1. Anderson J. (2007 pg 11-15) “Health and Safety” -Matching Legislation with Enforcement, Institute of Civil Engineers Journal.

2. Annan, J (November, 2010) Occupational and Industrial Safety and Health in Ghana [online]http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=197916

3. Karikari Annang, R ( October, 2008), available [online] http://www.theghanaianjournal.com/2008/10/25/manual-on-occupational-safety-and-health-launched/

4. Pate-Cornell, E. (1993) Learning from the Piper Alpha Accident: A Postmortem Analysis of Technical and Organisational Factors; [online] http://www.stanford.edu/group/mse278/cgi-bin/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/ 2010/01/Learning-from-Piper-Alpha.pdf [n.d]

5. Reason, J. (2008) ‘Achieving a safe culture; theory and practice’ [online] HYPERLINK "http://moodle.coventry.ac.uk/bes/course/view.php?id=3694" http://moodle.coventry.ac.uk/bes/course/view.php?id=3694 [December 2010].

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