Richard Gbadebo: A call for workplace safety

BEFORE his unfortunate death recently, Richard Gbadebo was a 300 level student of the Department of European Studies at the University of Ibadan. He was working at Henkel Industries Ltd, a factory located at Oluyole Industrial Estate, Ibadan, because of the ongoing lockdown imposed across the country which caused the universities to shut down. Unlike many of his colleagues in the country’s varsities idling away their time as the coronavirus pandemic raged, the deceased apparently sought to engage in productive activity pending the reopening of schools and resumption of lectures. Sadly, however, the venture proved tragic: he lost his life in an accident at the factory during a night shift.

In a quick response to the incident, the Oyo State government shut down the factory in order to pave way for a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the sad incident. The Federal Government promptly followed suit.  On their part, to remove the lingering  suspicion in their minds that foul play was involved in their son’s death, the distraught parents of deceased demanded the CCTV footage of the tragic incident. They made this demand when the Oyo State Government delegation led by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Dr Bashir Olanrewaju, paid a condolence visit to their residence. The affected company however appealed for quick reopening of its premises, saying that the incident was an isolated one and promising to foot the burial costs.

To be sure, the tragic death of Richard Gbadebo has once again placed the issue of workplace safety on the front burner. Over the years, factories in the country have dispensed with safety rules in their morbid desire to exploit workers and rake in huge profits. In particular, with  the dangerously high unemployment rate in the country, the rules of safety in the workplace have been compromised. Many of the laws governing workplace safety have been observed in the breach by employers of labour. Sadly, the supervisory agencies, including the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity, have carried on as if nothing was amiss. Worse still, even workers’ unions have failed to treat the issue with the required seriousness.

There are extant laws governing employer/employee relations and the relationship between employers and the government. These laws include the Factory Act, the Labour Act and the Workmen’s Compensation Act. These laws require employers to ensure safety and security for workers. Among other safety measures, there must always be  protective gear and fire fighting equipment. To say the least, these laws have been virtually dispensed with in many of the country’s factories. In particular, factories owned by some foreigners have been unduly associated with workplace infractions. They treat workers worse than slaves. In this regard, the ongoing investigations by the Federal Government and the Oyo State government should beam a searchlight on the extent of compliance with the extant laws by the employer in question. Regardless of the outcome of the investigations, the government must ensure that henceforth, all factories are equipped with the necessary gadgets for safety of the employees, and observe all the relevant laws. It must undertake diligent prosecution of defaulters.

It is crucial for the government to make workplaces safe for all workers by enforcing rules and regulations. Workplaces need not be  deathtraps for hapless workers. Gbadebo’s death was absolutely needless. The regulatory authorities in the country must wake up from their slumber. We commiserate with the family and friends of the deceased and wish them the fortitude to bear the great loss.

 

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