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WITHOUT ENFORCEMENT, OSH LAWS ARE MERE LETTERS

WITHOUT ENFORCEMENT, OSH LAWS ARE MERE LETTERS

I was again stunned this morning to see a report on the risk posed by yet another Indian company operating within a community in Ogun State. You will recall we published a story on people living on a diet of cement in the same State. I did promise i was going to get in touch with Ogun State Government on that report, i must tell you we have met with The Occupational Health Unit of Ogun State Ministry of Health on that issue. We were rightly informed they have visited the company to see things for themselves and they are currently working on a relocation program as a way of combating the exposure. We will follow up on this and let you know what happens next.

Another company is reportedly inflicting residents of a community within the same State with so much smoke and carborn emission that they can barely have fresh breath, we see this as industrially murderous. We need to know the health risks associated with such harmful inhalation and the impact on the residents.

One of such critical health risk is asphyxiation (when the body fails to get sufficient supplies of oxygen to the tissues. Inhaling smoke blocks the intake of oxygen in the lungs, and boosts levels of the gas carbon monoxide which interferes with the ability of the blood to carry oxygen).

Another very critical risk inhalation of smoke particles and chemicals such as carbon monoxide and cyanide can cause is direct irritation of the lung tissues.

Visible symptoms includes but not limited to:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Confusion

Serious smoke inhalation can lead to damage to the smaller airways deeper down in the respiratory system. These airways may become blocked by damaged material. The minute hairs, or cilia, that line these airways and help to ferry contaminants out the respiratory system may also be damaged. In this case, the patient may find breathing more and more difficult, as asphyxia sets in. They may become blue or cyanosed, especially around the lips and mucus membranes or noticeable on the fingertips (as oxygen levels in the blood drop), and start breathing faster to try to get more oxygen in.

As oxygen levels drop they may become confused and even lose consciousness. There is also a risk of developing pneumonia, or even complete respiratory failure. Alternatively their lips may appear unusually bright ‘cherry red’ which is the effect of carbon monoxide in the blood and which can disguise the cyanosis of low oxygen levels.

In addition to interfering with oxygen carriage by the blood, carbon monoxide is poisonous and causes headache, nausea and vomiting. Sometimes the person appears well, with no obvious symptoms, until the effects of carbon monoxide become apparent.

As well as direct tissue damage, smoke inhalation may provoke dangerous chemical reactions within the body. Pollutants contained in smoke can trigger the immune system to react, resulting in damage to the tissues. The immune system produces a cellular response and also chemicals called cytokines which seek out and helps neutralise inhaled contaminants.

Too much of a specific cytokine called tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) can stimulate a chain reaction that leads to the death of cells and general irritation in the lung, called a pneumonitis, which further interferes with the process of taking oxygen in to the body.

Having reviewed the possible risks and symptoms, you will realize the presence of these companies and their activities have nothing good to offer the health of the people residing in this community. The questions are:

  • Should Government fold her hands at such acts that are inimical to the health of the citizens whose electoral votes brought them into power?
  • Are we going to wait to till people die enmasse before reactions from Government which is mostly the case?
  • Is not this one case too many?
  • Does Occupational Health and Safety not encourage the “Law of reward and consequence”?
  • I am lost, my heart bleed and yet there is no solution in sight.
  • How did we get here?
  • How do we develop like this when our ineptitude destroys generation next?

Only hope remains the answer. Even if tomorrow never comes, let us be sure we did the right thing within the day we have as ours.

Kindly read through the story as published by Ignatius Igwe of Punch Newspapers of 12th April, 2013.

Residents of Ajose community, Ogijo in Sagamu area of Ogun State have sent a distress call to the state government to save them from being choked to death by smoke coming from a company in the area. Chairman, Ajose Community Development Association, Mr. Akanni Jamiu, told PUNCH Metrothat a steel company within the community owned by Indians, African Founderies Ltd, had caused the people sickness as they continued to breathe in the “dangerous smoke’ everyday. He said, “The smoke from the chimney of the company always blows across the community and it is affecting our health.

“The tunnel meant for leading the smoke out into the air is faulty, so the smoke blows directly into our homes.”He said the pollution had been going on for about four years of the company’s inception and had caused health challenges to the residents.

Another community leader, Alhaji Fatai Shekoni, said,“People in Ogijo are really bothered about the smoke because this is a serious health concern for us all. “If you come here as early as 7am, you will see things for yourself. As I speak to you now, I have serous cough arising from the company’s smoke. “I had to send my wife and children to Lagos so they will not be victims of Asthma and Tuberculosis. I really want the government to look into this.”Shekoni said after they complained to the company, the officials organized medical test for the residents. He added that the company had refused to give them the result months after the test. He said, “They took our blood sample after a series of health complaints about two years ago and they have refused to show us the results “by the time we went to another hospital, we discovered that many of us had developed asthma, chronic cough and other forms of diseases”.

A resident, who gave her name simply as Mrs. Yusuf, said, “The smoke in the factory was supposed to go through the chimney but it does not, it blows directly into the atmosphere enveloping the whole town in complete darkness during the day. “A visitor to the community might think it is a total eclipse of the sun, but to us residents of Ajose, it is an everyday thing”.

But the head of company’s administration, Mr. Michael Aderemi, said the company was committed to finding a lasting solution to the menace. He said, “Of all the 26 steel companies in Ogijo, we are the only company that has installed a shredding machine that is fully functional to control pollution. “Also installed is air pollution machine which controls all the air pollutants by removing them. “You see, everyone cannot be satisfied and that is the major challenge we have now. In line with our Corporate Social Responsibility, we have presented to the community a functional borehole and a cheque of N350, 000 to assist the community repair its transformer.  “At present, 70 per cent of our workers are from the community.”

I am more confused and bothered by the statement of Michael Aderemi, the Head Administration of the company. In his work “we are the only company that has installed a shredding machine that is fully functional to control pollution”. I am wondering if this is not part of what is expected as an operational safe processes in line with best practice, what they have cannot even been classified as being enough until the extent of their pollution is assessed and a very requisite equipment in line with their emission is recommended.

The community did not complain about your inability to dig a borehole for them; they are bothered about the health risk they suffer due to your unhealthy operational presence within their community. You gave the N350, 000 is not the issue and if i may ask, what was the fund meant for? It is very natural you employ people from the community; this is the general conduct of most companies to employ mostly artisans from host communities. How many of such community people were employed into management capacity?

I also think the Government has a role here. As reported, the company has spent about 2 years operating in that community which connotes it was obviously a residential area before the sudden emergence of the company unlike the case of Lafarge.

I think the Government should not place investment and revenue as a priority over the health and overall life of the people. If we really indeed want to create investment opportunity which of course is also for the people, I think there is need for due consideration of the people and the host environment. Two documents that are at the forefront of this are:

  • The Environmental Impact Assessment Document
  • The Health Impact Assessment Document

If we properly give attention to what these document advice if properly done, there will be no need for such health risk issues in the first place and even if there would be, they would have been properly captured in these documents and ways to mitigate duly implemented.

We also need to understand Government does not exist in isolation, let us properly engage the people in our projects and direct investment which have great impact on their well being. We can together create a better environment our children will be proud to inherit but the way it is now, our children will not be proud of us if this is what we want to leave for them. I am sure they will wonder if we really have them in mind when we were taking the decision that we made. The future is not about us, it is about our children, let us decide wisely and we must start it today.

“If one can touch one, we all can touch all”.

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Ehi Iden

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Ehi Iden editor