Concerns over Safety of Electricity Users, 156 Nigerians Killed, 87 Injured in Power-related Accidents

Emmanuel Addeh

In 21 months, spanning January 2020 and September 2021, at least 156 Nigerians were killed while 87 were injured in electricity-related accidents, data from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), has revealed.

The huge number of deaths and injuries, although not fully reported by the victims, bring to the fore the general attitude of the industry players to the safety of electricity users and workers in the sector.

By law, the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA), which was established in 2015, is empowered to carry out the functions of enforcement of technical standards and regulations.

In addition, the organisation is empowered to carry out technical inspection, testing and certification of all categories of electrical installations, electricity meters and instruments to ensure an efficient production as well as delivery of safe, reliable and sustainable power supply and guaranteeing safety of lives and property.

Although, it rarely gives account to the public on its activities, the Health and Safety (H&S) issues in the industry are believed not to be restricted to the failure of NEMSA alone as other issues like old assets as well as illegal actors like equipment thieves beset the industry.

The priority of the agency, it says in its mission statement, is having electricity networks that are stable, safe, and reliable and ensuring zero incidences of electrical accidents as well as eliminating substandard equipment and materials and ridding the system of quack electrical personnel.

But a THISDAY analysis of the number of deaths and injuries between the first quarter of 2020 and the third quarter of 2021 from the latest data released by NERC, indicated that the Discos submitted 114 health and safety reports to the power sector regulatory agency in Q1,Q2, Q3 and Q4 respectively in 2020.

Out of the submitted incidents, Nine persons died in Q1, 26 were killed in Q2, 19 were electrocuted in Q3 while 22 died in Q4 of the same year.

In the same vein, four persons were injured in electricity-related accidents in Q1,12 in Q2, 11 in Q3 while 13 persons were severely impacted by the accidents in Q4 of the same year.

In the first three quarters of 2021, spanning between January and September, the NERC report indicated that 24 people were killed by electrocution between January and March, 26 died between April and June, while 30 were killed between July and September of last year.

In addition, in terms of injury, including those affecting employees in the sector and third parties, the report stated that 13 persons were maimed in Q1, 15 in Q2 and 19 in Q3 of 2021.

A THISDAY editorial on the matter quoted the Q2 NERC report in 2019, as lamenting that no fewer than three persons were electrocuted every week while in the last quarter of 2018, there were 136,393 complaints from customers about the negligence of the electricity Distribution Companies (Discos).

It stated that by the first quarter of 2019, the complaints had jumped to 151,938, expressing concern that while the body counts continue to mount, the regulatory authorities had not been able to provide any solution.

Many of the accidents, it said, are caused by electricity surges, leading to an explosion of cables, blaming negligence on the part of the operators in the sector.

Also, it was learnt that electricity company workers often ignore early warnings and appeals from residents about faulty wires in their neighbourhoods as the time lag between when a fault is reported and it is fixed are usually far apart.

Old and broken down wooden and concrete electricity poles, some with naked wires dangling overhead, are rife in the sector, while serious rainfall or heavy wind could blow off some of the poles, leading to instant deaths.

But the regulatory for the power sector, NERC, noted in the latest report that it will continue to work with other related organisations within the sector to reduce the number of deaths and injuries suffered by Nigerians.

“As emphasised in the preceding reports, the safety of all electricity providers and users in Nigeria remains one of the key priorities of the commission in accordance with Section 32 1(e) of the EPSRA.

“The commission has continued to monitor the health and safety performance of the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) in order to guarantee the delivery of safe and reliable electricity to Nigerians,” NERC assured.

According to NERC, it will keep monitoring and evaluating the health and safety performance of licensees in order to ensure that operators keep up to their responsibility of delivering safe electricity services to consumers.

“The commission, in line with its mandate to ensure licensees’ commitment to safe energy delivery, has commenced the review of the accident investigation reports on various health and safety incidents recorded during the quarter for proper regulatory interventions.

“Moreover, in line with its 2017-2020 strategic plan, the commission has intensified efforts at implementing various safety programmes aimed at eliminating accidents in the industry.

“Among the safety programmes being implemented by the commission include but not limited to the standardisation of protective schemes, public enlightenment on safety, engagement of government agencies on Right of Way (RoW) violation, and a review of an operational procedure for distribution system operators on fault clearing,” it stated.

Although NERC also sanctions Discos and other operators who are found to have blatantly flouted the health and safety regulations, victims complain that compensation, in cases where they are paid, are usually either too meagre or takes a long while.

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