Mr Callistus Fonjong, a United Kingdom based Cameroonian UK-trained construction project manager, speaks to Lashaking Infos, LKI, on the recent electrocution of the two ENEO technicians that took place on the 6th of August 2021.
LKI: Mr Fonjong, thank you for accepting to talk to us regarding the recent electrocution of two ENEO electricians. The first and last time I interviewed was in November 2020. That interview centred on the Douala Grand Mall, where we found customers being unable to use the escalator. Your contribution to the incident was appreciated by our team and our readers.
We are here again this time, to talk about another incident; the electrocution of two ENEO technicians in Douala on the 6th of August 2021. I am sure you are aware of the incident.
FONJONG: You are welcomed. Let me also thank you for the efforts you are putting to improve our society. I am pleased to understand that your readers appreciated my contribution on that interview. I have watched the shocking video footage of the electrocuted technicians which has been shared on some social media platforms.
LKI: It is my guess that you were not trained as an electrician. However, I believe electrical trade is part of construction. It is my guess also, that as a construction manager, you could still share some worthy information or knowledge on the incident.
FONJONG: You are right. I am not an electrician. You are also right to classify the electrical trade as an integral trade of the construction industry. As a construction manager, working for residential and commercial projects, you are bound to work with all kinds of tradesmen and construction experts, including electricians.
LKI: So, what do you make of the electrocution incident of the two electricians?
FONJONG: I watched the shocking video with disbelief. The technicians on that pole, who happened to be victims of the electrocution, were supposed to be well trained electricians. As trained electricians, one would expect them to have done their due diligence, by making sure that, no current flows within those cables before the technicians even start their job, and while they were working to fix the problem. They should have known that better than anyone else. How did they start working on those cables, without the assurance that the current was switched off/disconnected?
LIK: What probably went wrong?
FONJONG: Judging from the video footage, everything went wrong. They were supposed to have had a RAMS
LKI: What does RAMS mean?
FONJONG: RAMS stands for Risk Assessment and Method Statement. It is called differently in other countries. What this means is that the management of ENEO were supposed to have identified and assessed potential risks in fixing the problem, and then mitigate the risks. All these must have been in a report before the commencement of the work.
LKI: Can you expand on that, please?
FONJONG: Yes. I would expand on that in a very simplistic manner. The very first thing was for the ENEO management to identify the problem. Look at the task(s) and the activities involved in fixing the problem. They should be asking questions like; what exactly is the fault and what needs to be done by the electricians to fix the problem(s) safely and adequately? Are there any risks involved? For example, some of the risks in executing the task would be ‘fall from height’; workers being electrocuted; getting stock up at height; the occurrence of powerful winds and rain (bad weather); darkness/too much sunlight; pollution like dust and noise; traffic congestion; and pedestrians passing-by. All of these would have to be part of their RAMS. Mitigating these would also involve the assessment of the immediate surroundings.
How does ENEO mitigate all these potential risks would be the next aspect of their RAMS. For example, in case of rain, the electric pole might be slippery and may cause the electricians to fall off the pole. Do they have to go up the pole when it is rainy? What equipment do they have or do not have to be used if it is rainy? Many questions would have to come up when doing their RAMS. Maybe they needed water-proof PPEs. Further questions would have to be asked by the management team. Questions like: What if with the right PPE, the pole is still slippery? If it turns out that the pole is slippery, then the electricians must avoid going up the pole. Obviously, there was a risk of being electrocuted. How did we mitigate that? These are the kinds of questions ENEO management should be asking themselves. They must switch off the flow of current in all the cables supported by that working pole and on all other cables that pass close to that pole before they even start their job. There should be no flow of current while they are working. Only after the completion of their tasks, and only after the electricians are away from the site, can they switch on the current.
LKI: So, the risks are enormous?
FONJONG: Of course! Let us look at another potential risk that should have been in their RAMS. Fall from heights. While trip hazards are responsible for most injuries on construction sites, we must understand that most deaths on construction sites arise from falls from heights. So, they were not supposed to undermine that assignment. What might cause the electricians from falling? If they do fall, how protected are they? Will they fall on sand, stones, concrete floor, or land on water? Is there a net to catch them when they fall? How far is the net from them? Or do they need a hoist so that if they are about to fall, the hoist suspends them in the air? Do they need to use a MEWP (Mobile Elevating Work Platform)? This risks assessment is very important. I am just trying to be simplistic with my explanation, with the hope that these explanations would give an idea on what probably went wrong.
LKI: By your explanation, can we say that the electricians did not follow health and safety procedure, and that they did not have RAMS?
FONJONG: Absolutely. They went against all health and safety procedure. I cannot categorically tell if they had RAMS. If they did have one, then I can categorically say that they prepared a bad RAMS. I would also like to think that the local authority (the council) was the client. So, only the local administrators can tell if ENEO presented them (the council where the work was being done) with a RAMS. You might want to find out from them (ENEO and the Council in question). If ENEO handed a RAMS to the council, the council was supposed to have an expert to approve of the RAMS. Only after the approval of the RAMS by the council, could ENEO have started working on the pole. From the looks of things, it appears to me that there was no risk assessment and no method statement done before the commencement of that work.
LKI: Are these standard procedures?
FONJONG: You must understand that the construction industry is supposed to be highly regulated. I used the word, ‘supposed’ intentionally. Unfortunately, most countries, especially developing countries do not have a regulated construction industry. Talking of health and safety procedure, there is a very standard Health and Safety control measure that is used in the construction industry. That method is equally applicable in all tasks we do that involves risks. The control measure is known as ERIC. The application of this control measure (Risk Assessment) is intended to avoid injuries and casualties/fatalities at workplace. ERIC stands for Eliminate, Reduce, Isolate and Control. You must make sure you eliminate all risks/hazards. If you cannot eliminate them, you must make sure you reduce them. If that does not work, you try to isolate them and then carryout control measures.
LKI: This sounds interesting. Can you take it further?
FONJONG: (Laughs) For example, to isolate a potential hazard, one might create a barrier to avoid people from tripping over … it if it is a trip hazard. So, depending on the tasks you are doing, ‘control’ for example, could involve putting someone on site at the time of the job to direct people’s movement. That would include pedestrians. Each task is assessed differently and mitigated differently depending on many other factors.
Regarding the electrocuted ENEO electricians, they failed to use ERIC probably because they had no RAMS. I do not think they had the right PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment). Even after using ERIC, doing a proper RAMS and using the right PPEs, tradesmen or anyone working on a construction site are expected to be disciplined. Those folks were not disciplined at all.
LKI: So, would one be right to say the ENEO electricians were responsible for their own demise?
FONJONG: Yes and no. They were partially responsible for their carelessness. The Company they work for, is hugely and partly responsible for what happened.
LKI: Can you please explain that?
FONJONG: One can tell the electricians did not have proper training. Companies must make sure that the people they hire are skilled, qualified and or well trained. If they were not well trained at the time of their interview and when they got the job, it is the responsibility of the company, to give their newly recruited workers, further training with proper induction. Even if the electricians were qualified and skilled, from all indications, they did not have any RAMS. The RAMS was supposed to be produced by the management of the company they work for. Apparently, the company has not done so. However, as a journalist, you can verify at the council and at ENEO. At the corporate level, I believe ENEO has tough questions to answer. On a professional note, the electricians demonstrated lack of professionalism. Their level of carelessness is so shameful. They are the ones charged with the execution of the tasks. They should be responsible for their own health and safety as well and not rely on the irresponsibility of the management team. As trained tradesmen, they should be able to know the dangers involved and how to avoid all risks of injury and potential casualty. If they do not care about their lives, why should a careless organisation care about them? Each construction worker, including electricians, is expected to have full knowledge of health and safety standards. They must look after their health and safety at work. It is the most important aspect of construction. Unfortunately, that is being neglected by our people.
LKI: By saying both the management and the technical team were responsible for what happened, it means no legal action can be taken by any of the parties against the other?
FONJONG. No. That is not what I intend to say. We must be able to differentiate personal responsibilities from organisational responsibilities. From the legal perspective, ENEO can be sued by the electrocuted electricians. If there is prove that the company did not provide a RAMS for the task and did not provide the technicians with the right PPEs, then the company can be sued by the electricians. Apparently, there was no supervisor on site. If there was no supervisor on site, then ENEO risked being charged. If there was a supervisor on site, and he/she did not have any RAMS, and there were no ERIC measures in place, then ENEO is responsible for putting the life of those workers at risk. There is obviously gross negligence on the part of ENEO management team.
LKI: Who is going to sue the electrician?
FONJONG: (Laughs). This is an interesting question that only makes me laugh. No one would sure them even though they were reckless. They are the victims, victims of their own stupidity and of poor managerial actions.
I still need to understand why two of them were on the pole. It is unusual.
There must be an investigation by the authority. A crime has been committed here if the electricians must make a case. What is however certain is that health and safety regulations have been violated. I do not know how things work in Cameroon. The government must intervene by investigating the incident. ENEO must be severely sanctioned. There must be a standard that companies must adhere to, in a country.
If ENEO is a foreign company, they should operate in Africa under international standards. These guys cannot come to Africa and operate the way they deem necessary without taking into considerations the health and safety of their workers and clients.
On the other hand, I do not blame them that much. The African leadership is so sick. The African leadership is careless and acts in a clueless manner in most cases. International organisations take advantage of our leaders’ nonchalant behaviours.
LKI: So, the government has a role to play?
FONJONG: Absolutely. The government is the principal wrongdoer here. They set the tone and the pace for good and bad things to happen. Can you show me the laws that guide the operability of the construction industry in Cameroon? We need rules and regulations (laws) in Africa.
LKI: But will laws resolve the numerous problems?
FONJONG: Laws will not resolve the situation. However, it will improve the situations because laws are sets of rules to guide human behaviour. The moment punitive measures are set and respected, things will certainly get better.
LKI: There are so many Cameroonians like you are out there. Cameroon needs your expertise for Cameroon to move forward. So, we expect people like you to come back home to improve the situation in Africa.
FONJONG: (Laughs). I do not think your country wants to benefit from the services of experts. For your information, there are qualified people in Cameroon/Africa as well. The issue with the continent is not just lack of expertise. It is the unwillingness of politicians and policymakers to do the right thing. They need to create a conducive and accommodating environment that will encourage people to return home, and for the experts already in the continent to improve their skills, and to work in a safe and well-structured environment. When you look at Africa, you can easily see that politicians do not work with the citizens in their (politicians) minds and heads. No amount of expertise can produce the general change we all desire for if politicians are unprepared to change their approach to leadership and management.
LKI: Would you like to return home one day and help in the development of your country?
FONJONG: Absolutely. Africa is home and we need to make our tiny contributions when possible, hoping that a collection of individual inputs would lead to larger inputs that will produce positive results for our people.
LKI: Once again, I would like to thank you for granting this interview to us.
FONJONG: You are welcome. I would like to express my appreciation for the good job you are doing.