Antonia Beri, chief executive of Safety Consultants and Solution Provider Limited, a company into provision of safety measures and equipment for companies and
homes, trained as a chemical engineer and spent decades
in the United States where safety standards aresecond to none. The lack of such in this clime motivated her to go into safety business. When
BRANDPOWER met Antonia, the Taraba State-born safety expert, threw more light into the risks brands are exposed to every day, either via lack of knowledge or way to go about it.
Safety Consultants and Solutions Provider Limited is into safety consultancy and provision of safety equipment and allied service. What gave you the idea to go into this line of business?
By training, I am a chemical engineer and having worked in the United States of America for fifteen years, my first job here gave me insight into the fact that safety measures at work to ensure that we go back safely to our loved ones were simply not there. So looking at the standards where I was coming from and where I was now, I was motivated to do something about it; especially in the engineering sector. Safety should be inculcated in our work habit and it is everything.
In an environment that is very religious, how much have you been able to convince companies and outfits to buy into this idea?
There has been quite some resistance; we defer and we say God is in control and it has happened the way God wanted it. But the bible also says we should work wisely and we must be pro-active in the way we do things. We should not be blaming God for our own negligence.
Your target definitely is the blue chip companies but let me ask: have you been trying to proposition those who have big houses and stand risks of fire or other safety incidents?
Safety, let me tell you, is for all. It is not only for the rich. In fact, when you live in Ajegunle, for instance, you are more in unsafe environment than someone in Ikoyi. The person whose generator is next to your window is more or less a fuel station and you can see fire in that scenario much more than someone whose fuel dump is far away from the house and not also close to their next door neighbour. Safety is for all, it should be something that should be enforced by the government.
How does government come into this? Does it have to make certain things mandatory?
Companies and factories being enforced to put certain things in place and in the process, companies like yours are the better for it…
Government is working on that through legislation. If you look at the Western world, because they have strong legislative and equally strong enforcing arms, everybody complies. It is not just having the laws and then keeping them in the cupboard; they must be enforced and acted upon. That will bring a lot of sanity in our working environment.
Both on the side of government and companies, those who are supposed to do the right things in terms of safety measures still cut corners and subvert rules. How do we get these people to tow the line?
You know if I take the example of Lagos State, I think they are doing well. If a decision maker wants to save money by not doing the right things but he also knows that his facility would be closed down for days and he would not make that money; then should know that he is better off doing the right things. To leaders and managers, I think it is a fool-hardy way of doing business; you see in a society where enforcement is very strong, you end up bribing one person after the other. In the long term, you spend more and yet your safety is not guaranteed. Another thing is that we don’t take life very seriously in this part of the world. One life is more important than all the profit you make in the whole year and this has been recognised in the Western world. We need to get to a level where we take life of everybody very serious. The death of a father in a family can negatively affect the lives of the rest of the family till the rest of their lives. Put in that perspective, I think everyone will be on board towards achieving a safe environment.
I visited your website; while it is aesthetically nice, the information there is equally technical. For the benefit of our readers, can you give an overview of what your services entail?
We are basically into the provision of a safe environment. One, to protect lives, because nothing supersedes that. Number two is our environment, both the living and non-living part of it. Look at the birds. If you go to the village, what you hear in the morning singing in your ears is the sparrow. But if you live in Lagos, you might not even remember the last time you heard a bird sing. We have to protect this environment. Let’s look at our houses. You leave for work in the morning and when you come back, your house is burnt. You are left to start from the scratch. No one wants such miserable scenario in his or her life. We should endeavour that our homes, the hospital we visit, the banks where we transact and the schools where our children attend are all safe. The consequences of these places not being safe are very grave.
Let me break it down. Let me say I run a company and I invite you in to help me provide safety measures and put them in place. What are the things you do?
The first thing we do is to come in and do what we call risk assessment. What are the hazardous and danger issues that you might face in the office in your operations, facilities and even the knowledge of your employees? This is because if I am working with a machine I don’t know, that machine becomes a danger to me. If you put someone using automated chopper; say to cut meat or cut flour or potatoes and does not know how to operate it, chances that he loses his fingers are very high. Knowledge and education of your staff with what they are working with all go into risk assessment analysis. At the end of this, we tell you this is what you are doing and these are the risks you face and this is how you can minimise these risks and make things better. We call this gap analysis. We look at the gaps between where you are and where you are supposed to be safety-wise. We then make recommendations on what we call improvement points. If you go to major companies, I mean multi-nationals, they pride themselves on safety. And if they are selling food and you go there and they are fighting, you don’t want to go there; but if it is serene and nice environment, you want to go there over and over again. People like safe environments and this translates to our daily lives and it makes business better.
Apart from this risk and gap analyses, do you do training on safety tips for their staff?
That is very important. We do that also. This is because the greatest thing you can do for your brand: safety.
Do you supply safety equipment too?
I can see plenty of that around your office premises.Yes; we do supply plenty of that. But training is very important. Let’s take a simple example. You have a Rolls Royce and you give it to someone who does not know how to drive. He would bash it; he might even end on dying. Anything you are working with as equipment, you must work with it safely.
Multi-nationals seem to understand safety issues very well but there are equally big Nigerian firms that are doing well with turn-over running into billions of naira. Are they safety conscious? Have you reached out to them?
Some of them are not even aware of what they are supposed to do and it has nothing to do with money.
We have a huge gap and this gap is that we have a lot of quacks in safety business. It is not that these companies are not conscious of safety or the resources. Multi-nationals have safety standards that are audited by third parties overseas. Whatever services are rendered them locally, they always ensure they meet certain standards. A big Nigerian conglomerate might not have that third party coming in with that kind of knowledge, so they go out there to give the business to anybody who claims to be a professional, so it is important that even the Nigerian companies that are conscious should work with qualified professionals, including Safety Consultants, our company. They should audit and make sure the person that is giving them what they actually need. There are those who say they don’t need the service too. The day you will need this service, it should there for you; they need to work for you so that you won’t end up with consequences you have not anticipated.
As much as people need safety measures in homes and offices, it is still not a fast moving consumer goods that people buy and consume; it is a service and hence, people will always resist. How much resistance have you faced?
The resistance is always there. When you explain to people, they do understand , so in terms of need, they also understand the need. So, the duty is on to us to actually educate the consumers and everybody about safety because when you talk to people diligently the truth is they understand they need it. In terms of finances, there is a bit of resistance because people do not see the reason why they should buy a fire extinguisher when that amount can feed their family for the day and the reason is that they are not looking at it from the stand point of protection. You must be conscious of what your needs are, what your risks are, what your liabilities are, so people tend to compare it with basic needs but these are by far more than basic needs and it is not meant for the rich who have extra money to spend. It is a need for everybody.
How long have you been in the country and how long have you been running this?
I have been in the country for the past twelve years and this company is about fifteen years old. And in the next fifteen years, I want a situation where we would have understood minimum standards in safety. Where we are now, standards are not well understood. Even if you are building a house, the approving authorities should be able to ask you if you have put safety standards in place. That is how it is supposed to be.