Workplace Safety and the BATN Exemplar

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Kasie Abone

On a daily basis, people all over the world face occupational hazards. Over the years, the global occupational hygiene community has worked diligently to develop ways to protect workers at various workplaces. Standards and guidelines have been developed to help employers and employees improve on their Organisational Safety and Health (OSH) management systems and to promote a safe and healthy work environment.

OSH is an important issue in today’s workplace, and there have been huge transformations in the field in the past couple of years. Various reasons account for this, including proliferation and strengthening of safety and health legislation, close monitoring by regulatory agencies and the realization by employers and executives that workers are typically more productive in a safe and healthy workplace.

Regrettably, implementing feasible OSH programmes in developing nations, as well as in small and medium enterprises, where there is a dearth of resources and technical expertise, can be very challenging.

In Nigeria, for example, a significant number of workers are exposed to many hazards despite the existing legislations enacted by government on occupational health and safety in the industry.

However, it is cheering to note that a number of firms in the country have entrenched the OHS and housekeeping culture in their systems. British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) is one of the socially responsible companies that have accorded priority to occupational issues, health, environment and safety. From the entrance of the company’s factory in Ibadan, this fact immediately stares a visitor in the face. For BATN, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of care. For many years, the company has had in place a comprehensive Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) management system that is based on international standards. Every year, it continues to improve on it, targeting zero accidents across its operations.

In pursuit of this goal, the firm has gone into partnership with relevant regulation such as the fire service, among others, to impart additional knowledge on environment, health and safety measures to all its employees.

The Manager, Operations, Environment Health and Safety, BATN, West Africa Area, Mr. Jide King, while addressing journalists on the company’s EHS system, noted that the company has adopted a number of strategies in trying to close the accident gap to zero. This, he said, underscores why the company takes risk assessment seriously and mandates employees to report near misses and accidents. He remarked that the company enjoins employees to see health and safety as everybody’s responsibility.

BATN, through its Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) management system, ensures that none of its employees are exposed to any of the major cause of occupational health hazards. The firm seeks to proactively prevent work-related illness by recognising hazards, assessing the risks and applying appropriate controls. For this reason, it has two on-site clinics that provide health services for factory workers in Ibadan and Zaria. Moreover, there is comprehensive medical insurance service for its employees and their immediate families all over Nigeria. It also provides workplace health education programmes for its employees.

The company has shown its commitment to healthy and safe work environments, through its partnership with the fire service to ensure that workers are exposed to the best practices in safety at work spaces. Its target is zero accident(s) in all area of its operations, which it set to achieve through: proper machine guarding, use of personal protective equipment where necessary, regular training on the use and operating principles of all plants and equipments, employment of the best technical staff to man all its operations, regular fire drills, and provision of first aid instruction.

In recognition of its commitment to safe workplace standards, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), South West Zone, in March 2016 honoured the company with the award of ‘Best Kept Industrial Premises.’

Not only does the firm care about the wellbeing of its staff. It is also concerned about its external stakeholders such as contracted farmers, and tobacco farmers/workers, by ensuring that occupational health risks are drastically reduced. It has manifestly demonstrated this in the handling of the Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS), a type of nicotine poisoning caused when nicotine is absorbed through the skin from wet tobacco leaves, otherwise known as Green Leaf Syndrome, a common health hazard that tobacco farmers are exposed to.

The disease is a real risk to farmers and their workers if they harvest tobacco when it is wet. There is no credible evidence to indicate that GTS can have long-term effects; and appropriate farming practices, including the use of protective clothing and avoiding contact with the tobacco plant when it is wet, can effectively manage the risk.

Moreover, tobacco curing, a carefully controlled process used to achieve the texture, colour and overall quality of a specific tobacco type, is a farm practice not only known for environmental impact but also health implications for farmers. The process involves the use of wood as fuel to generate heat.

The company is also encouraging some of its contracted farmers to process (cure) their tobacco with appropriate, locally available alternative fuels. These include gas, sawdust, coal, candlenut shells or liquid petroleum gas, as well as coffee or rice paddy husks. Since all fuels have environmental impacts, the company is also evaluating ways to minimise fuel consumption, for example by using innovative designs for curing barns. Although, not all tobacco farmers need wood for their operations, where they do BATN encourages them to source it from woodlands grown for fuel supply purposes and to plant trees to supply their own needs. The trees are usually grown alongside tobacco farms as an environmentally sustainable crop.

Furthermore, the company is constantly researching on ways of preserving natural forests and reducing the environmental impact of tobacco farming activities, while passionately supporting afforestation and alternative food cropping.

Recently, it set the target of eliminating the use of unsustainable wood sources by its contracted farmers. Its afforestation programmes encourage tree cultivation to provide a sustainable source of wood for farmers who require it for tobacco curing.
To compensate for trees that have been felled, BATN has planted more than 170 million trees through its afforestation programmes over the last seven years.

In view of the foregoing, a clear case of how and why organizations should establish a culture of safety has been canvassed, using education and broad-based stakeholder engagement as strategic anchors. Sustaining these health and safety standards, no doubt, enables firms to demonstrate their commitment to good practice and also remain profitable in an ever competitive global economy.