Working with the positives in African Sheq management

Shane Lishman reports from a remote site in Liberia on the positive difference that managerial buy-in makes to African Sheq management.

I was appointed to manage EHS (as they call Sheq here) on a hydro-electrical project, at a dam in Liberia. There was a lot to do from the first day, and some management structure was needed.

My flight from Durban was long. First I flew to Dubai, then back to Accra in Ghana, stayed overnight, and the next morning a flight to Liberia.

I was supposed to have been picked up, but the driver forgot, so I went to the Mamba Hotel (yes, that is the name, but it means something different), stayed overnight, and was picked up the next morning and taken to the camp.

At the office, I was warmly welcomed, and everyone proceeded to tell me how much work I had to do.

The Project Manager asked what my approach would be. I answered that for the first week I would observe and learn, visit the site, get to know the people, and read all the contracts.

I read the HSE Master Plan, visited the construction sites, spoke to many people, and eventually read the contracts.

When I asked for information, it was readily made available, and in some cases personalised with their comments on it, which really helped.

The Sheq system, or EHS System as they call it here, needed first of all to be established, integrated and implemented. This I told the project manager, the funders from Norway and Germany, and the owners of the dam, and representatives of the Liberian Government, at the USA Embassy.

After a presentation, I received a pledge of full support of everybody. My approach, interventions, and governance was willingly accepted.

Now we all know that this is often the response at health and safety presentations, sometimes just empty promises. However in this case, all along, and up to now, I have received only support, interest, and a team approach to implementing HSE (here the prefer the label EHS).

What a difference this is from the lower level of managerial support for health, safety, environment and quality in some other countries!

Nothing is perfect, but in this positive workplace climate it is fabulous for an HS practitioner to work.

We all know that the definition of a successful project is ‘to specification, within time, within budget, completed safely’.

In this case the project is very much focused on success, despite limited HSE resources.

There is also another Chartered IOSH UK member here who looks after his contracting group. The rest do not have formal qualifications.

All the employers here now recognise the need for training, and are getting their Sheq guys on Nebosh IGC or construction courses, a huge positive in my first month.

They have also recognised that most of the contractors’ HSE management systems were not working, and have started taking action to meet the requirements.

We started with over 100 historical deviations for all companies involved, but after only two weeks, over 70% of the non-conformances were closed out, and all the managers are working to close out the last 30%.

The focus on the weekly EHS meeting has positively changed from a totally HSE practitioner meeting, to an action meeting represented by each Contractor Project Manager.

The locus of control was achieved by running OHS or Sheq through each Owner Contract Manager, and deliverables are thus managed contractually. Our two-pronged approach has been very successful.

Mosquitoes, snakes, poisonous plants add to occupational health risks

Areas of concern that remain include malaria, endemic in this region, now that Ebola is a lower risk at the moment.

A very high number of Malaria cases are evident each month. We do spraying, use prophylactics, yet we still get cases of the disease.

One of the teams has possibly identified a co-factor; poor internet connection forces some people to leave their rooms at night, when the Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes come out. So we are upgrading our internet services.

We also have to do over 220 hectares of tree and bush clearing, with various snakes, green mambas, black mambas, horned vipers, Gabon vipers, vine snakes, pythons and a host of poisonous insects and arachnids, including some poisonous species of plants such as water hemlock.

This is daunting, yet the team has seen it as a Sheq challenge, rather than an obstacle.

The EHS business case is somewhat off the desired deliverables, yet with a strong team, I am seeing a real effort to get OHS going and improving. The investment will be worth it in the long run.

I am amazed at what has been achieved in such a short time, and this has only been possible due to management buy-in. Who says that EHS cannot be achieved out in the bush?

• Shane Lishman is Managing Director of CHSEMS, and director of Cygma CCS, the Civil and Construction Safety division of Cygma Sheq. He has 32 years or experience in Sheq practice.

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Shane Lishman

Occupational Health & Safety Specialist
Shane Lishman CMIOSH OSHCR SIIRSM EHRB IoD(UK) Saiosh COSHPROF has over 30 years experience in HSE system development, implementation and HSE project management.
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4 thoughts on “Working with the positives in African Sheq management

  1. Hi, Thanks for the information. It was similar in Eritrea for me, as the health &safety specialist.

  2. Congratulations on your appointment. As demonstrated by your article, Africa presents many exciting challenges particularly in the field of HSE / SHEQ Management. I am hoping you can throw some light on HSE legal requirements such as legal appointments as we know them in the context of the South African Occupational Health and Safety Act.
    Most of the Construction projects in Africa and in other developing countries such as Latin America are business interests of International entities who may be in joint ventures with the local business content and / or the State. And as such, in a bid to promotes HSE in their ventures and avoid HSE related litigation, the International Shareholder will outline specific HSE Standards, Policies and Management Systems (normally enshrined in HSE Legislation of country of domicile of the International Shareholder) to be implemented and complied with during the project execution phase.
    Because most developing African and Latin American countries may at best have rudimentary HSE legislation not adequate to comprehensively cover the HSE requirements expectations of the International Shareholder, there is a huge temptation to wholesale adopt external HSE legislation in a bid to comply to the International Shareholders HSE expectations.
    Most notable are legal HSE appointments as may be required by HSE Legislation, where you may find for instance a Construction Manager appointed using the Construction Regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of South Africa outside South Africa, because the local HSE Act is silent on such an appointment. The argument for such an appointment being that the investing entity is by origin South African and is operations are also guided by the South African Legislation, despite the operation being in a foreign sovereign country.

  3. Fantastic article Shane. Well done and keep going. Your comment on “What a difference this is from the lower level of managerial support for health, safety, environment and quality in some other countries!”, made me laugh, as this applies here in SA.

    In the context of; “They have also recognised that most of the contractors’ HSE management systems were not working, and have started taking action to meet the requirements”; It would be fantastic if that could happen here in SA, but the general construction trades and contractors do not have a clue, and/or they say the funds are lacking.

    But as a result they are willing to take risks, to the detriment of the principal contractor, who does not have control measures in terms of CONSEQUENCES of non-compliance in place.

    So they believe that there is not threat – no need to worry – so just carry on regardless.

    It is difficult to work in these conditions, so you are fortunate. Keep up the good work.

  4. News update; I just had a change of project manager, ex Zimbabwean /South African. Excellent, who 2 days ago said to the world Bank, and to German, Norwegian and American funders, that he does not consider schedule above safety, and safety is his passion.
    He even has me buying safety material while I am in South Africa. Working with the positives changes attitudes and ultimately changes behaviour, that sets up the culture we need. Pretty excited about work ahead.

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