Ensuring workplace safety, SDG 8 at VRA

BY: Daily Graphic
 Mr Emmanuel Antwi-Darkwa, Chief Executive of the Volta River Authority
Mr Emmanuel Antwi-Darkwa, Chief Executive of the Volta River Authority

The Volta River Authority (VRA) has distinguished itself as a Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) leader in promoting workplace safety and other Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The demand for increase in salaries has often been the main issue that brings friction between employers and employees.

However, health, safety and good working environment have also been identified as very significant to the wellbeing of both top management and employees at any workplace.

Unfortunately, some companies and institutions in the country give little attention to health, safety and environmental issues even though the Labour Act makes it mandatory for employers to take steps to minimise hazards at the workplace, and that is where the VRA has distinguished itself both locally and internationally.

Safety Communication Consult (SCC) caught up with the Chief Executive of the Volta River Authority, Mr Emmanuel Antwi-Darkwa, in an interview to throw more light on the subject matter.

SCC: Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) is an area that is often given very little attention by some companies in Ghana.

In your company, what is the core value of HSE?

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Antwi-Darkwa: Our core value on safety emanates from Section 13 of the Volta River Development Act 46.

The provision in the Act requires VRA to institute measures to promote and safeguard the health and wellbeing of clients and others who may be affected by the operations of the Authority.

The VRA’s Mission Statement also demonstrates our strong commitment to Health, Safety and Environment (HSE).

“We exist to power economies and provide related services in a safe, reliable and environmentally friendly manner to add value and raise the living standards of the people of Ghana and West Africa.”

VRA also complies with the safety provisions in the labour law, the factories shops and offices act 1970, the workmen compensation law 1987, Ghana National Service Act, 1997, section 24:1 of the 1992 Constitution (every person has the right to work under satisfactory, safe and healthy Conditions).

To enable it to comply with all these regulations the VRA has in place a Health and Safety Policy which outlines the principles of good occupational health and safety practices is aimed at promoting the wellbeing of personnel and preventing workplace accidents; an IIl Health Policy to promote best practices in ill health prevention and to promote healthy lifestyles and an Environmental Policy to safeguard and mitigate the impact of our operations on the environment through the use of an Environmental Management Plan and an Emergency Preparedness Plan.

SCC: What is the level of involvement of top management in safety? What are the leading indicators that show how safe your organisation is? Is there room for improvement?

Antwi-Darkwa: In the VRA safety management process, management’s commitment is key to the enforcement of safety, so we have made it our goal as management to provide a safety policy that drives our commitment to safety.

In VRA we have what we call the Central Safety Committee which is headed by the chief executive and also all directors as members of the committee which formulates the authority’s safety policies.

There is also a Work Area Safety Committee (WASACO) responsible for enforcing the VRA Safety Policies.

This committee is chaired by departmental heads, and all Unit/ Sectional heads are automatic members of this committee.

Some of the leading indicators we have are safety meetings attendance, risk assessments, safety trainings, work area inspections, safety audits, annual medical examinations, etc.

SCC: Please describe your personal journey to becoming a CEO who understands the value of safety.

What experiences or lessons brought you to the position you now occupy?

Antwi-Darkwa: I have been part of the VRA culture of prioritising Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) in all that we do as a young man who first joined the authority through to becoming the Chief Executive in 2017.

As a Civil Engineer by profession for over 30 years, you cannot successfully deliver your job without integrating Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) best practices in your job, making it a cardinal point of my personal and professional life.

My experience over the years as an engineer reinforced my belief in incorporating Health, Safety and Environmental safeguards and guidelines in our operations, which have gone a long way to ensure that we operate in safe environment and by so doing passing on to every team member the need for a safety culture.

SCC: What are the major challenges you face in upholding safety standards, and how do you work to overcome them?

Antwi-Darkwa: A major challenge we face is Safety Compliance of third-party contractors.

To improve compliance of third-party contractors, we have included a requirement in our tender documents for contractors to provide an HSE plan before the award of contract.

In addition to this we have also developed a “VRA SHE Standards for Contractors” to guide the contractors in the execution of their jobs coupled with periodic site visits by our safety personnel.

SCC: What advice would you offer corporate leaders whose organisations are at the early stage of the journey to safety excellence?

Antwi-Darkwa: I believe that one of the most critical behaviour that leaders must promote in the development of a successful safety programme is to lead by example.

I make it a point whenever I meet staff to emphasise that there are no compromises on safety.

Developing a culture of safety by establishing and utilising a proactive safety programme within the work environment is a key component to any leader’s future success.

If you think safety is expensive, try accidents.

It is true investing in safety is expensive and very few organisations are committed to it but what we do not realise is that paying workman compensation is more expensive since you may either lose the staff who is involved in an accident, whereby you have to replace by recruiting or paying compensation and the staff may also be compromised after accidents.

We encourage all companies to make a conscious effort to ensure safety stays on top of their agenda to promote a conducive and incident free work environment, since it would in turn lead to motivated staff with high productivity rates and industrial peace.

SCC: What advice would you offer a safety professional whose CEO doesn’t get the true value of safety in the organisation? How can safety professionals secure a buy-in from the C-suite?

Antwi-Darkwa: My advice to safety professionals whose CEOs don’t get the value of safety would be to get them to continuously engage their CEOs to get them to appreciate the hazards and the conditions that could arise from non-compliance. They should not relent in their effort to get the buy in of their CEOs.

SCC: Is there any roadmap in your company to ensure that every employee adheres to your operational HSE standards?

Antwi-Darkwa: Training is very key in ensuring that every employee adheres to Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) standards.

People are likely to do what they know consciously and for what they do not know, your guess is as good as mine.

By training our WASACO executives for three days on their functions as well as our safety representatives who are elected by their peers for five days in Basic First Aid, Fire safety, Accident reporting and Investigations, conducting of workplace inspections, CPR, among others, they become an important segment of promoting safety in their various sections within the Authority.

We have also realised that training some selected staff may not entirely do the trick so weekly safety meetings are organised for staff within our operational areas and once a month for the Non-operational areas were instituted to ensure that every staff is abreast with best practices in Health, Safety and Environment (HSE).

There is also a monthly inspection by the area WASACOs for operational areas and a quarterly inspection for non-operational areas as well.

SCC: Explain if some of your company's senior and junior staff are members of a safety professional body in Ghana and the role of that body in your organisation.

Antwi-Darkwa: We have some of our key staff who are members of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

The ASSE provides capacity building for our staff in the area of HSE, which goes a long way to help them stay well-informed about industry trends.

SCC: Does your company have ISO certification in 9001, 18001 and 14001 management systems in place?

Antwi-Darkwa: One of our plants, the Kpone Thermal Power Station, is being certified on a pilot basis for ISO 45001, 18001 and 9001. When this exercise is complete, the remaining plants will be certified using the lessons learnt as a guide for their certification.

SCC: Describe if your company subscribes to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 (Decent Work Agenda by 2030), which Ghana, as a member country, subscribes to.

Antwi-Darkwa: As you know, the Volta River Authority (VRA) is a quasi-governmental organisation, which means that we operate partly as a public institution as well as a private institution and by that extension the government is the majority stakeholder.

So once government is a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8, which is Decent Work Agenda by 2030, it is our duty to help the government achieve it and so we do subscribe to it.

SCC: What do you think the government and regulatory bodies should do to ensure safety at the work place?

Antwi-Darkwa: Our sector ministry, which is the Ministry of Energy, is in the process of finalising a safety policy. This policy will govern the safety practices of all agencies in the sector.

This is a commendable step as we wait for the nation to roll out a national safety policy.

I believe the Factories Inspectorate Division of the labour office should be well resourced in order for them to carry out their mandated duties regularly.

SCC: Would you support the establishment of an HSE fund by the state into which companies with revenues above a certain threshold and in certain hazardous production lines will pay various sums for the management of HSE in the built environment?

Antwi-Darkwa: Personally, I will support any legal move by the government to help promote the culture of workplace safety since it will result in the welfare of the working populace who are the bedrock of our economy.