Averting Building Collapse in Lagos State

Building construction is a high risk activity that must be effectively controlled by building owners and effectively regulated by the government. The construction industry remains a dangerous business, accounting as one of the major causes of fatalities in Lagos State.

Over the years, Lagosians have witnessed consistent building collapse leading to fatalities, litigation, regulatory actions, pains, injuries, delayed schedules, bad reputation and loss of property among others. On March 8, 2016, a five-storeyed building under construction collapsed killing 35 people. This of course is a reminder of the collapsed six-storeyed building (guest house) belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations at the Ejigbo area of Lagos on September 12, 2014, in which 116 persons, mostly South Africans, lost their lives.

As expected, there have been various reactions by the Lagos State Government to these incidents. The Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, dismissed some affected officers indicted of negligence under the Public Service Rule 040401.

It is of utmost importance that persons in positions of authority within the agencies in charge of building control discharged their duties professionally and where a breach in duty by a government officer has been identified, appropriate disciplinary actions must be taken as shown by the governor. Nonetheless, we must also be aware that issuing of authorised building permits and sacking of officials due to negligence are not sufficient to guarantee reduction in building collapse in Lagos State. We must now begin to look into sustainable strategies by enacting a proactive construction specific health and safety legislation in addition to building regulation. The Lagos State Government must now shift from solely traditional compliance to building permit to a more robust and sustainable construction health and safety management.

The regulations should identify all duty holders within a building construction project and clearly stipulate individual legal duties ranging from the building owners to the designers, contractors, subcontractors and other persons involved in the project. The law should apply to the whole construction process on all construction projects, from conception to completion.

A good reference will be the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 in the UK which clearly states the duty holders on construction project and places legal obligations on them to ensure that construction is carried out safely. For example, the regulation places a duty on commercial clients (Owners of the building construction project) to make suitable arrangements for managing a project, including making sure other duty holders are appointed as appropriate and that sufficient time and resources are allocated onto the project.

The Regulations aim to make sure the building construction project is safe to build, use and maintain and offers good value. These regulations do not nullify the UK Building Regulations but rather emphasise the importance of safety in construction. As any builder knows, projects start well before ground is broken. Therefore, safety should be part of the building process right from the very start.

In working towards establishing a safer workplace and promoting building safety, government building regulatory officers must now work closely with building owners, designers, contractors and project planners to determine the most effective risk management strategies before a project begins and while it’s being built.

For health and safety to be taken seriously on a building project, the client’s commitments must be key and visible. Safety must start with the building owner or client and should be their core values. The clients may show this by appointing competent principal designer and contractors, allocating sufficient time and resources at the planning stage of the project as well as providing relevant information to all relevant persons/contractors on the project.

When it comes to safety, nobody works alone. Therefore, designers (organisations or individuals who as part of a business, prepare or modify designs for a building, product or system relating to construction work) engaged for a building project in Lagos State must ensure that when preparing or modifying designs, consideration is given to eliminating, reducing or controlling all foreseeable risks that may arise during construction, maintenance and use of a building once it is built.

It is important that an initial assessment is carried out by the building regulators at the pre-planning stage of a building project since every project is first built on paper. Safety begins with pre-planning, therefore, the Lagos State Building Regulatory Office must check that the methods to be used for the building construction are understood at the pre-planning stage and confirmed to be safe right from substructure, superstructure to fit out. The LSBRO must ensure that controls to mitigate any foreseeable risks are integrated into the health and safety plan and may require evidence from a client that the designer has taken all reasonable measures to eliminate, reduce or control foreseeable risks that may arise during construction, maintenance and use of the client’s building once it is built. In addition, the LSBRO should be visible on site and should have the legal backing to be able to use its discretion to require from the contractor on site a copy of the construction phase plan.

Also, the client should be able to provide evidence that a contractor/ subcontractor’s safety history and performance was considered during pre-qualification and not just costs including provision of contractors’ HSE requirements to subcontractors during competitive bidding.

Safety is not simply common sense. Workers need to be trained on the applicable regulations, hazards identification, and how to work safely including how to deal with emergencies. All these would help improve hazard spotting and reporting amongst the workforce. Hence, where a worker has recognised a substandard material or equipment to be used on the project that has potential to cause collapse of the building during or after construction, the worker as a result of his training would be able to raise an alarm and/or report such to a nominated person within the project team who would then take appropriate action.

More also, the Lagos State Government should have a list of registered HSE consultants who would have gone through an accreditation process for ascertaining their construction health and safety qualifications, sector experience and ability to offer competent advice with a minimum of three years practical experience on building construction. This will ensure that those who offer advice to duty holders have a good understanding of building construction health and safety risks and how such risks should be managed, controlled or eliminated so far as reasonably practicable. However, where non-compliance on the part of any of the duty holders has been detected, the LSBRO should be able to act and initiate prosecution. Lastly, the implementation of the suggestions and/or recommendations mentioned above on new and existing projects would provide a long term solution to building collapsed in Lagos as building constructed within the guidance mentioned in this article can be guaranteed to be safer than those built under the present existing conditions.

Fowode, a chartered health and safety practitioner, wrote in from Ikeja, Lagos via [email protected]

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