When Lawrence Webb addresses the third West Africa Conference, in Accra, Ghana this week (7-8 February 2023), it’ll be the first time an IOSH President has made an official visit to the African continent.
Let me float a further exciting thought for you: in the audience for Lawrence’s historic speech might well be the future first IOSH President to come from Africa.
Our recent West Africa roundtable event, also held in Ghana, in December, was a strong indicator of just how far occupational safety and health (OSH) has come in the region in recent years. An impressive line-up of participants from government, trade unions, employer representatives and our tier-one partners (including the United Nations Global Compact, World Health Organisation and International Labour Organization – ILO) pointed to the rising demand for good OSH legislation, practice and practitioners in West Africa.
This week’s conference will be very much focused on building the supply of OSH expertise needed to meet this greater demand taking shape in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Ivory Coast and neighbouring countries.
The complete game-changer in all of this, of course, is the adoption by the ILO, last summer, of a safe and healthy working environment as a fundamental principle and right at work. This promises a global boost both for the demand and supply of OSH expertise. It could be likened, I suppose, to the way a sharper focus on saving the planet has created a greater market for ‘greener’ products based on energy conservation and recycling.
So, as well as being the right thing to do from an ethical and moral perspective, this ILO move is, of course, an international marketing godsend for the global OSH community, with developing countries offering huge prospects for major growth. The conference will be chiefly focused on how to make this refreshing new commitment a practical reality in West Africa.
An all-embracing drive for low-cost goods has given way to a wider consideration of how those goods are produced, with more socially conscious investors looking for greater ethical investment opportunities. The ILO has now given a green light to these global investors to find new ethical homes for trillions of dollars of investment, projects shown to satisfy a new requirement for good OSH practices to be seen to be in place to attract funding.
The ILO has given OSH professionals a clear mandate from investors, shareholders and government bodies. Through its close partnerships with key global players like the International Corporate Governance Network (ICGN), the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) and the International Social Security Association (ISSA), IOSH is working to help create the high levels of OSH needed to satisfy investors. Our West Africa Conference is a key part of this drive to help build the necessary infrastructure of OSH expertise in the region.
Prior to the ILO declaration, there frankly wasn’t a great deal of interest shown in OSH by the foreign and finance ministries of West African governments but the ILO has changed all that. Now, these ministries and others, such as health and education, have a much better understanding of the potential for good OSH practice to keep their national systems running smoothly by looking after the workforce.
For example, thanks to OSH, healthcare is prevented from being overloaded with work injuries, while education is much boosted by the fact fewer young people (especially girls) are having to leave their studies to care for parents and families impacted by work accidents and occupational illnesses. These are key priorities across the Commonwealth where, again, IOSH holds a key role as the voice of OSH.
West African governments have realised that OSH is not only vital in workplaces but also at a much wider, societal level. One country that really is showing the way on this for other African nations is Rwanda, which has emulated how Singapore demonstrated to its Asian neighbours that economic development doesn’t have to mean a race to the bottom in terms of health and safety. It, too, has shown how inward investment will now only be attracted if employers can show they’re operating in the right way, treating their people fairly and achieving growth by providing them with high quality jobs. This was also the model IOSH is very proud to have helped build in Malaysia in recent years.
So, this week’s West Africa conference is an immensely proud milestone for all of us at IOSH. It represents a key moment in our hugely exciting journey with all the region’s stakeholders to put OSH well and truly on their part of the world map.