Safety is often the point of emphasis at any work environment. Depending on the nature of the work, the environment as well as the technicality of the activities involved, safety rules and regulations differs from one company to the other. In whatever industry you find yourself, knowing and abiding to the safety rules is key to everything.
Once the rules are neglected or ignored, the result could lead to severe injury, incapacitation or, in some cases, death.
That was the unfortunate case last Wednesday at the Five Star Logistics Terminal in Tin-can Island Port, when a pile of iron pipes that were being stacked up in rows, fell and rolled over a night-shift worker, killing him in the process.
The victim, identified as Mr. Pius Ifah, a 62-year-old grandfather from Edo State, was a contract staff from another company, Good Intenti ons Ltd, working for Five Star Logistics.
The incident which occurred around 1 a:m on that fateful day, left many friends and co-workers of the deceased dumbfounded and in grief, as there were no serious signs of activities going on at the Terminal when MMS Plus had visited the scene of the accident hours after it happened.
According to eyewitnesses, most of who spoke on condition of anonymity, the accident had likely occurred due to carelessness on the part of the crane operator, who may not have stacked the pipes properly.
But the employer of the victim, Good Intensions Ltd, a service provider in the maritime sector, rules out any carelessness in the incident, saying it was only an unfortunate accident.
According to Mrs. Kofo Olugbesan, the Managing Director/Chief Executive of the company, “It was an unfortunate accident that we at Good Intentions truly and sincerely regret. It was an accident, and accidents usually happen when we least expect it, that’s why it’s called an accident.”
Mrs. Olugbesan explains her company’s side of the story: “We are the labour handling the discharge of the pipes from the vessel onto trucks, from there to the stacking area. Nothing happened at the discharge point, nothing at all. Everything had gone on well from the ship to the truck.”
She revealed that at the stacking area in Five Star Logistics Terminal, it was a different company that handled the stacking of the pipes at the designated area, keeping them in place with wedges.
“According to information I’ve been able to gather,” Olugbesan explains further, “the pipes being stacked fell back and rolled over the victim, who was one of our employees. We’re not the company handling the stacking.”
It was gathered that the said pipes were heavy industrial iron pipes, each weighing between 2 and 3 tons, such that the trucks that carry them could only carry three pipes at a time. So imagine several of such pipes rolling over the chest of someone.
When MMs Plus visited the office of Good Intentions Ltd to speak with colleagues of the deceased, Mr. Ifah, he was described as a jovial and hardworking man who took his job seriously. They said he was a reliable person where handling tasks assigned to him was concerned.
According to the Executive Director of the company, Mr. Tokunbo Abua, he had accompanied the MD (Mrs. Olugbesan) to the terminal at 12 a.m midnight on the day of the tragedy, just to boost the morale of the workers before work commenced.
Said Mr. Abua, “Madam called me around 11 pm to come and take her to the ports. So we all went there to see things. We were there for about one hour plus. We saw the man in question, Mr. Ifah. He was active and a very good worker. When the accident happened, they called me up around 1.30 a.m and I rushed to meet them at Ahmadiya Hospital where the victim had been taken to. When I saw him, he was still breathing slightly, but he gave up afterward.”
Abua said that as far as safety was concerned, his company abides by all the safety rules by making sure their workers were well protected and ready for the job.
“The workers were all in their gears,” he said. “We make sure and insist on inspecting workers’ gears before allowing them to work. The victim in question was even properly geared up when the incident happened. But when the pipes fell down, they rolled on his feet and he fell down. You must know that the pipes in questions are massive. We’re a law abiding organizing and we adhere strictly to all the rules of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).”
The company, in expressing grief over the unfortunate tragedy, said it would ensure that all the benefits and support that the deceased’s family is entitled to will be paid to them appropriately.
“We’re all human beings and we’re naturally concerned about the family of the victim. We’ve taken care of all that needs to be addressed. We have our insurance in place, we’re handling the pension and entitlements of the victim and we’ll ensure his family gets all the necessary support at this time” said Olugbesan.
Regarding ensuring that accidents like this don’t occur in future, she said her company has specifically insisted that stronger wedges be put in place for stacking of pipes henceforth.
But one cannot help but wonder what the late Ifah had been doing at the spot at the time of the accident, if it was not his company’s job to stack pipes because, according to reports, he had been standing at the base of the stack when the wedge beneath gave way. Perhaps it was a case of passion; a man being truly committed to a task at hand.
“He was trying to direct the crane that was stacking the pipes,” said one eyewitness, “He was guiding the crane operator that was to drop a pipe when the ones below shifted and rolled on him. It was so unfortunate, but no one can really say exactly what happened. Maybe they should have checked thoroughly to ensure that everything was in order before commencing stacking.
“But bear in mind that they’ve been doing this before, it wasn’t the first time. So truly, perhaps it was only an accident and nobody’s fault,” he opines
Another issue of concern is the late Mr. Ifah’s age. Should a man of 62 still be involved in dock operation, knowing the highly physical nature of the job?
Said, Mr. Abua of Good Intention, “Of course, we agree that he was an elderly man, but it wasn’t as if he was doing anything physical there. He was a supervisor because of his experience on the job. He was an experienced dock worker.”
Abua went on to clarify that Ifah was under Labour, and it was Labour’s decision to stop him from working if age was a barrier, which wasn’t the case.
“They have a Labour Union of which he (Late Ifah) was a member. If he was considered to be overage, the Labour would decide that because they control activities at the dock,” he said.
One of the victim’s colleagues who spoke to MMS Plus said, “The case is between the company and the family of the victim. I am not entitled to speak to journalists about it. You know this matter involves death so I have to be careful before I put myself in trouble.”
Another co-worker at the terminal, who identified himself as Michael Owolabi, lamented the incident and called on the management of Five Star Logistics to take measures at ensuring the safety and well-being of their employees.
Feeling obviously embittered, Owolabi asks rhetorically, “How can someone come to work and die like this? It’s unfair!”
Speaking further, Owolabi revealed that this is not the first time accidents like this has happened. “Only two weeks ago, a similar accident happened and someone died. We’re so demoralized right now,” he said.
The other incident that Mr. Owolabi was referring to was the one involving one Mr. Samson Oheha, a dockworker, who died earlier on Sept. 19, in a similar circumstance and at the same terminal (Five Star Logistics). On that occasion, it was reported that heavy paper bundles had fallen on Mr. Oheha, killing him instantly.
Is this not one death too many? Without attempting to make any assertions or point fingers, what could be the safety lapses at Five Star Logistics Terminal if, in only a matter of day, two men, breadwinners in their families, could lost their lives so brutally?
It is true that sometimes, even after the necessary safety measures have been taken, accidents still happen. So all things being equal, the most important safety rule of all would be, “Be Alert Always!” You never can tell when a quick reflex can be the difference between life and death.