The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a global health crisis which has challenged health standards worldwide. Ghana has had its share of the coronavirus pandemic and is working hard to get a grip on the situation.
Safety Communication Consult (SCC) caught up with the Chief Executive of Volta River Authority, Ing Emmanuel Antwi Darkwa, to share how leadership has ensured health and safety remain a priority during the pandemic.
As the global community is finding ways to control and completely fight the pandemic, what has your company done to respond to an emergency like this?
The Volta River Authority at the beginning of the Pandemic established a COVID-19 Taskforce, consisting of key Management, Health and Technical personnel. The Taskforce is responsible for monitoring the Covid-19 situation in the company on a daily basis, providing educational and preventive guidelines, mobilising appropriate PPE for staff, ensuring adherence to covid-19 health protocols and alerting management to critical decisions or interventions to roll out at every point of the pandemic.
SCC: The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) theme for last year 2021, World Day of Safety and Health at work, “Anticipate, prepare and respond to the crisis – INVEST NOW IN RESILIENT OSH SYSTEMS.” What is the level of involvement and improvement of top management at your company in this regard?
VRA has always kept safety as a key issue in both its operational and non-operational working areas and the safety culture within the organisation is top-notch. The secret to this culture is the fact the VRA Safety structure has the VRA Chief Executive as the head of the Central Safety Committee. Additionally, all the Deputy Chief Executives and Directors are members of the Safety Committee. This system allows Management to be abreast with the safety issues within the organisation and this was fully in place before Ghana even recorded its first Covid-19 case.
SCC: Please, describe your emergency management policy as a company. What experiences or lessons has this pandemic brought to you and the company?
VRA has various policies to manage different classes of emergencies. Notable amongst them are the Emergency response plans for the various facilities, Environmental and Spill Response Plans for the power plants and Business continuity plans for all Departments. These policies have been put in place for foreseeable emergencies to ensure that when these events occur, the organisation is adequately prepared to handle them with minimal or no impact to the environment, personnel, business and facilities. There are also monitoring systems in place to ensure these events are identified at their incipient stages to even prevent them from going full scale.
In the case of COVID-19, a medical emergency was declared and a full-scale response plan was put in place. The Corporate COVID-19 Task Force was also established to develop strategies required to prevent and control infections. These strategies were implemented and enforced utilising current structures within the Health and Safety Management System, along with the help of VRA Medical personnel and Work Area Safety Committee members. VRA’s response has been spectacular, and we have reinforced our social contract with our staff and stakeholders including communities within our operational jurisdictions.
On experiences or lessons, the pandemic has only confirmed the VRA view that change is inevitable and that Corporate Safety Management must be resilient at all times.
Following our sustained operations throughout the season, the pandemic reinforced our confidence that our Emergency Preparedness plans were firmly grounded. Our earlier resolve to digitise our internal business processes, some months before the pandemic, also enabled us to readily transition into the new normal of remote working.
The Authority is now on the verge of rolling out a 5-year digitisation strategy to further enhance our business and operations.
SCC: What are the major challenges facing your company now in upholding safety measures, and how are you working to overcome them?
The major challenge facing the company currently in upholding safety measures is the fact that most of our maintenance involves workmen working in close proximity to each other. A good aspect of our operations also requires personnel to be physically present at the work locations. To ensure the safety of our personnel, we have put in place stringent COVID-19 preventive protocols, developed protocols for handling suspected cases, provided the necessary Covid-19 compliance equipment, restructured our operations into shift systems, and also improved on our ICT infrastructure to infuse remote working, virtual meetings, and learning a new way of life.
SCC: What advice would you offer other corporate leaders fighting to curb the pandemic and help rebuild the Ghanaian economy?
We would urge them to learn to adjust and rethink how things are done within their organisations. If there is anything the pandemic has taught us, it is the fact that the new normal demands doing things differently to achieve the same or better results. We will also encourage them to provide a safe and conducive working environment whilst observing the necessary protocols to ensure the safety of their workforce. They should also have a robust Health and Safety Management system with high leadership commitment to ensure those policies are complied with to ultimately protect the most valuable resource of their companies.
SCC: Do you think Safety, Health and Environmental compliance is the surest way to tackle the crisis and what does your company stand to achieve?
Suddenly the world has awakened to the role Safety, Health and Environmental compliance play in a crisis period as this and it would be disingenuous to say it is not the sure way in curbing the crisis presented by the pandemic.
Our contribution to the socio-economic development of Ghana is not merely for the benefit of our generation but rather for the generations yet unborn.
Our activities, particularly our hydro generation business, is highly dependent on sustainable environmental and socio-economic conditions in our catchment area. It is therefore very crucial we do all we can as an organisation to ensure that we sustain the environment for current and future operations.
We carry out the above among others, by deliberately adhering to all the necessary international benchmarks to ensure that we protect our staff and the environment while doing our work safely?
SCC: What is your company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) on humanitarian relief policy in times of crisis.
Our CSR policy presents a common ground for partnership and cooperation between VRA and our stakeholders on the identification and provision of solutions to critical areas that stimulate economic and human capital development. This was exhibited during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic where VRA reached out to the various communities, Municipal and District Assemblies within their operational areas. As a Corporate Policy, our Community Development Programme (CDP) activities are in the areas of social infrastructure projects, environmental protection activities, educational schemes (scholarships), industrial attachment, health and support for cultural activities.
SCC: Explain if your company would lay off employees in difficult times such as this or management would rather brainstorm with employees, both seniors and juniors, to find practical ways to improve operations to restore your revenue inflow?
As an organisation, our greatest resource is our workforce and so we value them above all other things. We also invest heavily in our workforce and therefore in difficult times, we would always work together to find optimal solutions to ensure that we continue to sustain excellent and continuous business operations.
SCC: Describe if your company would invest going forward in any industry as a subsidiary to support all employees and save the company from collapsing completely in times of any global crisis that may affect all nations?
VRA unlike many organisations has a very diverse portfolio that makes it versatile in adjusting to the demand of the environment. We have hydro, thermal and renewable power business operations. Additionally, due to the nature of our business operations and also based on our establishing Act, we have over the years already invested in subsidiaries that operate in other business sectors. What we are doing now is to commercialise the subsidiaries in order to be able to operate sustainably on their own.
SCC: What do you think the government and regulatory bodies should do to ensure safety and health at the workplace?
The Government must continue to provide the necessary logistics needed by the regulatory bodies to carry out their work. The regulatory bodies must relentlessly carry out monitoring and education to ensure that safety and health regulations are complied with at the workplace.