A Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Observation on Nigeria’s Electricity Industry

Author ~ Kingson Elendu

Energy efficiency, health and safety, and environmental sustainability have been identified as major sustainability issues in the energy sector, especially in Nigeria where about 16% of generated electricity power is always lost at transmission and distribution channels and HSE (Health, Safety and Environment) risks are common in the workplace. This was emphasised during recent visits to few Nigerian Transmission Company offices.

                                   

Image: Transmission switch yard

Sustainability in the energy sector involves the process of implementing an electric power strategy that reduces environmental harm and fatality or injury rates of electricity workers and the general public. It can also be in the form of energy efficiency, which involves the process of reducing the amount of energy that is lost at the transmission and distribution channel; that is, between sources of supply and points of distribution to consumers.

The energy sector in Nigeria is divided into different units, starting from power generation stations were electricity is generated, to power transmission stations that source for the generated power, on to the power distribution companies. The distribution companies are privatised companies that distribute the power to the final consumers through individual transformers in the streets.

  Source: Sparkonline

Health and Environmental Safety in Nigeria’s Power Sector

According to Peter F. Drucker, “The first duty of business is survival, and the guiding principle of business economics is avoidance of loss – not maximisation of profit”; which implies that avoidance of health and environmental risks or loss is vital for a successful electricity industry in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the use of unskilled staff at the distribution channels is a major hazard factor causing high risk exposure such as electrocution and fall from heights. Another HSE issue that was observed from the visits is the risk of electromagnetic radiation in switchyards, which can affect a man’s fertility over years of exposure in the switchyard. Effort needs to be made to help engineers working on transformers in the switchyard to avoid exposure to the transformer oil used for cooling of the winding, as this contains cancerous chemical known as PCB and is corrosive – capable of peeling one’s skin.

Risk of explosion of some electrical machines or equipment, such as transformer cable circuit breaker explosion – a device which protects transformers from developing accidental short circuits and overloads – is another threat to the lives of the staff working in the transmission field.

It was impressive to see a highly functional Health, Safety and Environment Department. One of the responsibilities of this department is the prevention of environmental hazard in the transmission office, such as regular clearing of bushes for the safety of workers against risk of wild animals such as snake bites. Obviously, there is room for more technical service provision from such a strategic department, including efforts towards the conservation of nature holistically, noise pollution and biodiversity threats, especially at the generation stations where turbines generate noise and hydropower plants scare aquatics away from their natural habitats.

For instance, lack of the reuse of exploded materials such as transformer cable circuit breakers and other tools, is material inefficiency that needs immediate attention in transmission offices the nation over. Where it is not possible for the damaged materials to be refurbished, there still remains opportunity for recycling for other usage.

It was welcome to see basic safety rules adhered for visitors to the transmission. The management provides safety helmets, boots, hand gloves, overalls, as well as training briefs and tips to ensure a hazard free workplace. However, off record conversations with staff indicated their dissatisfaction with the minimal hazard reduction measures.

 

 Image: Exploded transformer cable circuit breaker

The argument has been posited by many that our dear country is hardly lacking in the provision of regulation and guidance, but in the implementation. In 2014, the industry regulator Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) released the Nigerian Electricity Health and Safety Code Version 1.0 – a practical document with best industry practices for the sustainability of the energy sector in Nigeria. This document seems to have remained in the revered chambers of organisations’ library as interaction showed little knowledge or understanding of this guidance.

The promotion of sustainability in the energy sector will therefore ensure that Nigeria’s power sector recovers operating costs, provide reliable and affordable electricity, as well as meet environmental and social objectives.

Retrospect

  1. Power: Nigeria’s Most Immediate and Pressing Challenge? Bekeme Masade (October 8th, 2017)
  2. Sand Dredging in Nigeria’s Waterways: Between the Economic Boom and Environmental Doom (Sep 2nd, 2017)
  3. Towards the Bleak Future of Crude Oil: What Nigeria Should Do Now, Bekeme Masade (Aug 12th, 2017)
  4. The Reality of Nigeria’s Recession Exit: Between GDP Growth and Sustainable Development. (September 16, 2017)

 

Reference
  1. Electric power transmission and distribution losses (% of output). World Bank Group.
  2. Safety and business sustainability in the power industry. Independent Energy Watch Initiative.
  3. Sustainable Electricity Systems. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).



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