Safety and business sustainability in the power industry
The challenges in the power sector in Nigeria grew with time in the face of weak infrastructure, vandalism, electrical accidents with several electrocutions, and poor service. For the purpose of implementing a strategy to reduce fatality and injury rates in the power sector, as it impacts on service delivery, health and safety of utility workers and the general public, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) put in place the Nigerian Electricity Health and Safety Code Version 1.0, released in 2014. This practical document formulated with best industry practices to achieve the standards of health and safety as required under Part III Sections 32 (1)(e) and 32(2)(b) of the EPSR Act 2005.
Despite this code and other applicable safety guidelines, such as the Nigerian Electricity Supply and Installation Standards Regulations 2015, the level of electrical accidents, the fatality and injury rates, are still on the increase.
Electrical accident especially when it involves people, both utility workers and the public as well the environment, usually leads to huge expenditure, which has a deep effect on the triple bottom line (Profits, People and Planet) of business sustainability. Hence, managing the health, safety and environmental risks prevents losses and reduces attendant accident costs including compensation, medical expenses, regulatory penalties and fines, reputational damage, operational losses and legal consequences.
The duty of business is survival
According to Peter F. Drucker, an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation, avoidance of loss is paramount to business success. Drucker states: “The first duty of business is survival, and the guiding principle of business economics is avoidance of loss – not maximisation of profit.” Hence, avoiding losses – including those that occur as a result of our failure to integrate appropriate safety risk assessment into the power industry in Nigeria and the entire global village – will eventually promote and sustain the profitability and health of the players in the industry.
Be that as it may, in order to prevent accidents, and increase the bottom line of players in the industry, three critical safety factors (unsafe behaviours of the utility workers, poor public perception of safety and unsafe network conditions in terms of the electrical infrastructure) have been identified to have contributed to over 90% of accidents that have led to injuries and fatalities in both the utility workers and the public in Nigeria. Therefore, to avoid losses and improve performance, operational excellence and profitability, risk management programmes must focus on these three critical elements.
In terms of the unsafe behaviour of the utility workers, the players in the industry – especially in the distribution, transmission and generation companies – should embark on strategies that will enhance attitudinal change of the workers so that the safety culture is improved and sustained. Examples of such strategies include behavioural-based safety programmes, reward system and consequence management, safety counselling sessions, strategic safety meetings like toolbox talks, safety huddles and contractors’ safety engagements, safety learning sessions, and field safety monitoring and compliance activities.
Safety awareness programmes
The illegal construction of homes under power lines, trading near electrical equipment, working illegally with electricity assets (without permission from the distribution companies, wiring houses in the wrong manner) are among the poor public safety habits. Yes, attitude plays a role here but lack of safety awareness and government intervention with respect to enforcement of laws plays a major role. In order to overcome these challenges, the players in the industry should organise public sensitisation programmes using the media including print, electronic and wordofmouth. They can also engage in safety discourse in the communities, organise awareness on power safety in schools as a corporate social responsibility initiative, paste safety warnings/caution signages, and work with government to prevent encroachment on power lines as stipulated in the Nigerian Electricity Supply and Installation Standards (NESIS) Regulations 2015 Vol. 1 (chapter 3 Section 3.1).
Furthermore, unsafe network conditions like failure of the relay system, use of undersized conductors, poorly maintained electrical equipment and bent poles usually lead to accidents. Therefore, to prevent any untoward incident in the industry, there is an urgent need to carry out network technical audits, so as to identify unsafe network conditions and implement corrective actions. Meanwhile, the distribution and transmission companies should carry out quick-win programmes such as network safety monitoring and periodic facility safety assessment (FSA) to identify unsafe network conditions and fix immediately.
In conclusion, it is pertinent to be cognisant that a robust safety risk management programme, that will enhance operational excellence and profitability, requires commitment from the top management of every facet of leadership from both the corporate organisation and government. Hence, no matter how laudable the programme is, its workability and sustainability is dependent on the leaders in the industry. ESI.