Can we meet you?
My name is Ehi Iden and i am the initiator and Chief Executive Officer of Occupational Health and Safety Managers. A most complete Nigerian Occupational Health and Safety Company.
What is your is your background and how did you find yourself in HSE?
I am a man of very vast interest and coming from a multi dimensional background. I am a graduate of Mass Communication with Professional Diploma in Public Relations who strayed in to the healthcare sector by the will of Almighty God in Port Harcourt June 1997 where i started work as a hospital Supervisor which i did for a few months before i became an Admin/Marketing Manager in the same hospital. By virtue of the third party contract agreement my hospital had with Shell Petroleum Development Company in Port Harcourt, there was this clear requirement that we must work jointly with SPDC Medical Scheme according to the HSE standards in line with the SPDC’s overall corporate HSE policy. If you have had course to work with SPDC you will understand how seriously they take issues that have to do with Health, Safety and Environment and contravening these policies and guiding standards could lead to termination of your contract. There was therefore the need to have a HSE custodian in my hospital that will interface closely with SPDC under the contract terms. This responsibility was offered to couple of Doctors and they turned it down because they just could not stand the heat from SPDC in ensuring HSE standards are met. I made myself available for this responsibility and i had the opportunity to be trained by SPDC in different capacities in HSE issues and a at some point i realised this profession was still new in Nigeria and it could put food on my table some day if i take it up and give it the best of shot. That was how i started further researches based on the foundation i have been given by SPDC i went for further courses and trainings that prepared me for what i am doing today.
Below are the courses i have done and areas i have been trained:
- Occupational Health and Safety Professional Program for Managers, USA
- Managing Safety and Health in Schools International, UK
- Understanding Health Policy in America, UK
- International Association of Safety Professionals, USA
Below is a list of some of the professional bodies i identify with;
- Member, Society for Occupational Health Psychologist, USA
- Member, Governing Council of Emergency Crisis and Risk Management Institute, NGR
- Member, British Project Professional Society, UK
- Member, Framework Convention Alliance, Africa
- Member, Academy for Chief Executives, NGR
How has been the journey so far?
The journey does far has not been rosy all through but i am grateful to God for the change we have been able to effect in some organisations and personal lives we have had course to touch directly or indirectly. The challenges are always there most especially when you are charting a relatively new course, i started private practice by consulting for just healthcare companies such as Hospitals and Pharmaceutical companies on strictly Medical Safety and a few other companies i had course to consult for was also to manage their health programs. Most employers saw it then as a waste of resources, why spend money to tell people about health and safety when we could keep that money for some most important issues? This was the thinking. Most organisations that gave us listening ears and subscribed to what we were doing were only doing that out of compulsion and not because they saw it as necessary. If you must work for the major multinational oil and gas companies then in Port Harcourt and environs you must have a robust HSE content of your operation processes which you must comply with and reviewed timely. We had such organisations listening to us and paying us for HSE trainings, health and safety installations, safety audit, process reviews and also assisting them in putting up their safety documentations. We should not also forget that most of us initially saw HSE as policies of the nationality of those oil and gas companies which were being introduced into the Nigerian workplaces, little did we know that safety and health in the workplace is an international issue of a very high interest and concern but the challenge we had was the lack of willingness on the part of the government to making legislation in the Nigerian constitution to cater for the safety and health of any individual working in Nigerian workplace as well as securing the host environment. Nigerian signed off at the international conventions so many years back but yet to domesticate the content of that treaty into the Nigerian local laws and this watered down enforcements and did not make HSE practice look like what was the right thing to do. Everyone did what he felt was right and that made our practice a frustrating one. But thank God for the passage of the Nigerian Health and Safety bill on 27th September, 2012 by the Nigerian Senate. A hope for the future.
Can you tell us few of the companies you worked in and is there any one of those jobs that was particularly challenging?
I have worked for quite a number of companies within the years under review. Very prominent amongst all is St Patrick’s Hospital Ltd Port Harcourt where i got the platform to leap into what i currently do, my success story in Occupational Health and Safety would not be complete without referring to that hospital. I was also a Managing Consultant in-charge of Medical Safety in Identitti Concept Port Harcourt where i had a network of 12 hospitals and 2 Pharmaceuticals companies i had to constantly supervise on HSE in a highly clinical environment. Along the line, i have also done Health Insurance and i have worked as a General Manager/COO at Super Active Healthcare Systems in Lagos which has a twist of both Occupational and Preventive Health running alongside Health Insurance which formed about 20% of our business operations. I have also worked at Critical Rescue International as a Head, Business Development and at some point, Head, Clinical Services which was the last place i worked as an employee before setting up Occupational Health and Safety Managers which i currently oversee. While working across these companies i have also initiated and directed several Occupational Health and Safety projects. Most fascinating amongst all was the “Perceived Stress and Health Assessment Survey” we designed and carried out for a foremost Nigerian Bank with 220 branches and 4,400 employees across the country. We visited all the branches, assessed all employees within a period of 90 days which was the project timeline. The project was my initiative and i was the Project Director, i saw myself flying from one city to another supervising the 12 medical teams we have constituted to run simultaneously across different regions in Nigeria to meet our project timeline while the project was also tied to a performance bond. This has been the most challenging project i have handled and it is still very fresh in my memory. Though there are other such projects but this is one experience that i hold so dearly.
What led you into starting your own HSE Company?
What drives or leads a man resides solely in the inside. I got really worried over how the Nigerian workplace looks like and the series of accident that happen on a daily basis coupled with the very little access these same people have to available information, i felt the need to inform people correctly and create behavioural change which is the only way forward. Also the fact that most Nigerian business men are crowded in where they feel the money is today but no one is ready to take a leap into where the future monies are domiciled because it might not give them immediate reward, it was on this premise and realization that i took the chance to set up an Occupational Health and Safety company. One of the first concerns we had was to build and develop local capacity in Occupational Health and Safety which we began by offering Nigerians from different fields of endeavour basic training in Occupational Health and Safety using a two-course model per day approach. I was really marvelled and saw people yearning to learn, coming into Lagos from as far as Abuja, Bauchi and Kaduna States just to attend this training program. We saw concern and the emotions that were displayed when you make the trainees understand the Nigerian position and how they could make a difference, commitment was high and most of them went back to their workplaces to initiate most of the things we had thought them. We also saw the needs from some organisations looking for a complete Occupational Health and Safety company to help them structure their health and safety systems yet they could not find such companies and there was nothing we could have done than to make ourselves available to fill the vacuum. We calculated the timing, weighed the risk and we found it worth taking, here we are today.
What are the challenges of running an HSE company in Nigeria?
Well, they are almost same challenges which every business manager experiences in the day to day management of his business. Before i took the decision so set up Occupational Health and Safety Managers, i also saw the need to develop myself to drive my business into success not relying solely on my work experience and other professional Occupational Health and Safety trainings. Business management and entrepreneurship are not child’s play, i had to register for an Entrepreneurship and Business Development certification from University of Westminster because i realised outside my Occupational Health and Safety skills, i also needed to know how to be an entrepreneur to run a successful business. Other challenges include continuously developing systems, modules and models because every system has different peculiarities that must be handled as it affects different operations. So we most times mean different things to different people, it is never a “one-style-fits-all” approach. We wear coveralls to some field work and wear ward coats in other places, this is the dynamism that characterise our profession.
What are the areas of specialty your company is focused on?
Though we do complete Occupational Health and Safety, there are areas you will surely have a level of bias which your practice will always tilt towards. We are more into Occupational Health and Safety which we have the competencies and capacity to handle though we have some clients asking for content in Environment which is not our mainstay, we either refer or outsource that part to a professional colleague we can verge for his competencies. We are more concerned about fitness-to-work and fitness-at-work which most often involves pre-employment health assessment, intra-health assessment, general annual health assessment, drivers annual health assessment, food handlers health assessment, drug and alcohol screening, audiometric assessment, chemical handlers screening, spirometry health assessment, audiometric assessment for call centre employees and people who work in high noise environment, annual comprehensive health assessment and others. We also do risk assessment, safety audits and inspections, Occupational Hygiene, Health Impact Assessment, fire safety engineering, accident investigation, Basic Life Support and other First Aid programs certified by American Heart Association and other Occupational Health and Safety trainings.
Can you share a few of your clients with us and generally the impact your company has made?
We have worked for a number of organisations cutting across so many sectors. Some of such clients are: Vita Foam, Airtel, Century Energy Group, West African Seasoning Company (makers of Ajunomoto), West African Oil and Gas Pipeline Company (WAGPCO), OANDO Plc, International Energy Services Ltd, Global Rescue, Waste Management Society of Nigeria, CWC Group, Federal Road Safety Corps, Berger Paint and of late, Mouka Foam, MTN, UNICEM, Afric Assistance Et Services, Senegal and a number of other companies we have impacted in different ways at different times.
What are the dreams and aspirations of your company in taking her to the next level?
We have so much aspirations and solutions we want to bring into the Nigerian economy for the overall interests of Nigerians. We at OHSM believe in the power of synergy and collaborations mostly in the areas where we have least comparative advantage when compared with other practitioners, what we are doing in this regard is to team up in such areas and offer solutions. We have identified and partnered with some organisations as: International HSE Council Dubai: Through this partnership, we offer NEBOSH, IOSH, IEMA and Medic First Aid certified courses in Nigeria to Nigerians. ER 24, South Africa: We have also signed up a collaboration agreement with ER 24 which is one of the largest Emergency Response Companies in South Africa where we have access to 6 air ambulances for Medical evacuation to any part of the world in time of severe workplace accident or ailment of critical concern. Confirm Biosciences USA: We realised the need to have drug and alcohol test kits with very reliable outcomes in Nigeria and the only company we could partner with based on efficiency and reliability of kits was Confirm Biosciences whose products we use for conducting drug and alcohol testing in Nigerian workplaces. These and many more are the innovations we have put in place. We are also creating the “Nigerian OHSE People Network” which will be a network of all OHSE practitioners in Nigeria having a portal to discuss highly professional issues and also network amongst colleagues. This gives room for us all to know ourselves better and our specific areas of strength. We hope to flag this off very soon. We have also created “The Council of Work Accident Claim Lawyers” which is a collection of Lawyers whose interest is in the legal prosecution of those violators of health and safety laws when it is finally made provision for in the Nigerian constitution. You will agree with me we need people who can give free legal services to a man who has been rendered incapacitated, maimed or mutilated by workplace accident in his company because of absence of requisite health and safety policies, processes and procedures. These are some of the ideas we are processing and implementing in our dear country Nigeria.
Has your company been engaging any government parastatal with regards to policy development or regulation enforcement?
Before now there has not really been strong basis and framework to work with in engaging these relevant government agencies largely because of the absence of enabling OHS laws which is gradually coming in now. The only agency we have had course to relate with is the Lagos State Safety Commission saddled with the responsibility to regulate workplace health and safety practices in the State. We strongly hope as the Nigerian Health and Safety bill is fully assented to by the President, we would have the basis of enforcement and implementation. This is the reason most of us are very happy for such a brilliant initiative of Senator Chris Anyanwu who initiated such a people oriented bill and we honestly believe it is one of the best bills that has ever come out of Nigerian Senate to touch both the high and the low. The process may seem slow but we have a new Nigeria of our dream, we would not relent, we will keep making our contributions at different capacity until we achieve a Nigeria we will be proud to handover to our children.
As we round off on this interview session i quickly want to say the Nigeria we have today is not the type we will be proud to hand over to our children and want them to be happy with us, let every man make his honest contribution and write it down, we may not have been bold enough to ask our fathers what went wrong but i am not sure the children we have now will have that kind of fear or courtesy, they will ask us what were the contributions we made. So let’s work now while we still have the opportunity, for the time cometh when we would be held accountable by our children. The new Nigeria nation is the responsibility of all Nigerians, it is not what you only get that matters let’s think of what we can also give back to our motherland.
Culled from: HSE Executive Online Magazine October, 2012