This week, I introduce a good friend of mine from our undergraduate days at the University of Ghana, Legon as my guest columnist.
Abdul-Latif Issifu is an Investment Manager in Infrastructure Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the UK, where he has been living for a number of years. He is also a non-executive director on a number of PPPs.
He writes on building standards, public health and responsibility as he reflects on a recent trip to Ghana, in the context of a work-related site tour he just undertook in England.
Health, safety responsibility
I have just come back from a board health and safety tour in Essex, South England, of three large buildings owned by the company on whose board I sit.
Such a tour presses home your health and safety responsibilities under the law as a Director.
Effectively any defect, design flaw or damage or repair issue that exposes users of all categories of the building including staff, members of the public, clients and passers-by to danger is your legal responsibility.
Dereliction of such responsibility could end you up ultimately as an unwilling guest of Her Majesty for some years in special accommodation.
The responsibility to take a tour from time to time is not for sightseeing if even you are fascinated by what you see.
The tour is to apprise yourself of what you read in reports about any issues with the buildings first-hand this time.
You take a walk with your managers and contractors.
You look at fire escapes and whether they meet regulations, you look out for inappropriate ventilation/temperatures, trip hazards, obvious signs of leakage and anything that may make the building not fit for purpose.
Of course you also begin to think more deeply about the investment beyond the balance sheet by seeing the things that impact your investment property operationally.
My Ghana experience
This kept me thinking about my complaints about building standards I experienced as far as health and safety is concerned in Ghana on my last two recent trips.
On my most recent trip with my family, we used many hotels/ guest houses up and down the country on a road trip all by recommendation.
There was a recurring issue. Trip hazards.
In one hotel in the long beautiful corridor, there is a sudden drop in level about six inches deep in the same colour tiles with no warning.
Absolutely pointless and in fact very dangerous.
In another very big-name hotel in one of the cities, our en-suite room had the door to the bathroom on the edge of a step.
You literally push the bathroom door and you drop 12 inches into the bathroom with no warning.
This same style of a step just behind a door can be found in a popular restaurant in Roman Ridge in Accra.
I am not sure if I have become more aware but I can swear that these sorts of impractical and frankly dangerous building designs were not prevalent at least not in the Accra I knew some decades ago.
Many builders cannot build even steps anymore?
You go down stairs and just when you think you have got your rhythm your foot drops deep or cuts short
because the next step is not as deep as the previous.
Has anyone else noticed these silly building standards?
Is the carelessness because building owners are most unlikely to be drawn to court for design faults that lead to injury or perhaps unlikely to be prosecuted for health and safety breaches?
There was the famous collapse of Melcom supermarket a few years back.
I am not sure any tough questions were asked and the matter died.
For some of the buildings in Ghana, if an expert was paid to set a trap for someone to fall, they couldn’t do a better job.
In one instance someone actually realised that the sudden drop behind the door is a trip hazard and put a high visibility tape on the floor.
But the tape is actually behind the door after you have pushed the door and probably dropped to your fall if you were going to.
What is this?
Growing safety culture
Public safety is not a western luxury or frills to building standards. Lives and limbs depend on strict standards and we must take it far more seriously and ensure rigorous standards are introduced and enforced.
We cannot leave these things to chance and what-have-you in a forlorn hope that nothing will happen and then blame witches, evil spirits or fate when the obvious outcome of these poor standards is glaring for all to see.
The law must grow some teeth and learn to actually bite. Being a director on the board of an organisation in this country, whether public or private, must mean more as far as health and safety responsibility is concerned.