Building collapse and safety concern in Lagos

The site of the collapsed building PHOTO: Bertram Nwannekanma

The site of the collapsed building PHOTO: Bertram Nwannekanma

Building construction is a high-risk activity that must be effectively controlled by building owners and effectively regulated by the government. The construction industry remains a dangerous business, accounting for one of the major causes of fatalities in Lagos State. Over the years, Lagosians have witnessed consistent building collapse leading to fatalities, litigations, regulatory actions, pains, injuries, delayed schedules, bad reputations and loss of properties, etc. On March 8, 2016, a five-storey building still under construction at Horizon 1, Lekki Gardens, Ikate, Lagos collapsed killing 35 people. This of course, is a reminder of the six-storey building (guest house) collapse belonging to The Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) at the Ikotun area of Lagos on September 12, 2014, in which 116 persons lost their lives.

In reaction, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, dismissed some affected officers indicted of negligence under the Public Service Rule 040401.

It is of utmost importance that persons in position of authority within the parastatals in charge of building control discharge their duties professionally and where a breach in duty by a government officer has been identified, appropriate disciplinary actions must be taken as shown by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. Nonetheless, authorising building permit and sacking of officials due to negligence is not sufficient to guarantee reduction in building collapse in Lagos State. We must now look into a sustainable strategy by enacting a proactive construction specific health and safety legislation in addition to building regulation.

The regulations should identify all stakeholders within a building construction project and clearly stipulate individual legal duties expected from the building owners to the designers, contractors, subcontractors and other persons involved on the project. The law should apply to the whole construction process on all construction projects, from concept to completion.

A good reference would be the Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2015 in the UK which clearly states the duty holders on construction project and placed legal obligations on them to ensure that construction is carried out safely in United Kingdom. For example, the regulation places a duty on commercial clients (Owners of the building construction project) to make suitable arrangements for managing a project, including making sure other duty holders are appointed as appropriate and that sufficient time and resources are allocated onto the project.

As any builder knows, projects start well before ground is broken. Therefore, safety should be part of the building process right from the very start. For health and safety to be taken seriously on a building project, the client’s commitments must be key and visible. The clients may show this by appointing competent principal designer and contractors, allocating sufficient time and resources at the planning stage of the project as well as providing relevant information to all relevant persons/contractors on the project.

Designers engaged for a building project in Lagos State must ensure that when preparing or modifying designs, consideration is given to eliminating, reducing or controlling all foreseeable risks that may arise during construction, maintenance and use of a building once it is built.

It is important that an initial assessment is carried out by the building regulators at the pre-planning stage of a building project since every project is first built on paper. Safety begins with pre-planning, therefore, the LSBRO must check that the methods to be used for the building construction is understood at the pre-planning stage and confirmed to be safe right from substructure. In addition, the LSBRO should be visible on site and should have the legal backing to be able to use its discretion to require from the contractor on site a copy of the construction phase plan.

Also, the client should be able to provide evidence that a contractor/ subcontractor’s safety history and performance was considered during pre-qualification. Workers need to be trained on the applicable regulations, hazards identification, and how to work safely including how to deal with emergencies.

The Lagos State Government should have a list of registered HSE Consultants who would have gone through an accreditation process for ascertaining their construction health and safety qualifications, sector experience and ability to offer competent advice. This will ensure that those who offer advice to duty holders have a good understanding of building construction health and safety risks and how such risks should be managed, controlled or eliminated so far as reasonably practicable. However, where non-compliance on the part of any of the duty holders has been detected, the LSBRO should be able to act and initiate prosecution.

• Fowode, an engineer, is a chartered health and safety practitioner in Lagos.



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