HSE Violations: FG Seeks Jail Terms for Directors of Defaulting Oil Companies

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Chineme Okafor in Abuja

The federal government is considering jail terms for directors of oil and gas companies and other entities involved in hydrocarbon activities in the country, found guilty of abusing industry’s safety standards, the new National Petroleum Policy recently approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has disclosed.

Obtained recently in Abuja, the policy showed that health, safety and environment (HSE) practices of the operators in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry is quite poor, and needed to be improved on.

The policy seeks to push for a robust adherence to standard health and safety practices, by ensuring that individuals found culpable of breach of safety standards, which result to accidents, is brought to criminal justice to serve as a deterrent to people who may consider acting in a similar fashion in the future.

“The current system in Nigeria regarding maintenance, health and safety in the Nigerian petroleum sector is not acceptable. Major safety incidents go without proper investigation and without sufficient responsibilities being apportioned,” said a section of the policy. There are two important roles for safety management in Nigeria (and as indeed anywhere): prevention and investigation. Prevention is of course the best approach. Setting good standards and ensuring they are followed help prevent incidents. Incidents and accidents may however still occur (although increasingly rarely as the safety regime becomes embedded) and it is the role of investigation to find out what happened and to learn the lessons for the future,” the policy explained.

On the actions to be adopted to cut down on accidents in the industry, the policy said: “Rigorous investigation is important because lessons should be learned, changes made and similar incidents avoided in the future; if individuals are culpable, the guilty are brought to criminal justice, setting a deterrent to people who consider acting in a similar fashion in the future”.

“The safety record in Nigeria is unlikely to significantly improve without establishing and empowering the regulator to carry out forensic investigations and to lay criminal prosecutions on company directors in cases of proven gross negligence. A strong robust safety regulator will be established, with powers of inspection and investigation, and working with law enforcement agencies as necessary for entry into premises without owner’s permission, removal of evidence, questioning under caution and detention, in accordance with the law,” the policy added.

“The policy is for safety regulations to include robust penalties for breaches of regulations and safety standards. There also need to be criminal prosecutions for instances of gross negligence which lead to a serious breach of health and safety or serious incidents that lead to loss of life. They should carry a potential jail sentence for directors of offending companies,” the policy said.

The policy further explained that a safety division of a new regulator for the sector would be set up with concentration on sustaining safety in the various aspects of the oil sector.

“The petroleum safety division of the regulator for Nigeria will be dedicated to the petroleum sector (including oil and gas production, oil refining, gas processing, transportation, petroleum products, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), biofuels and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)). However, it is recognised that such an organisation needs to be properly financed and it needs to have specialist staff with the skills and the tools to carry out their work effectively,” the policy added.