East African economies have continued to enjoy significant findings for crude oil and natural gas discoveries with Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya proven to have 6.5 Billion Barrels of Oil, 57 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 754 Million barrels respectively. With the latest progress so far and much-anticipated scale of operations in East Africa as a result of crude oil and gas discoveries, the African Economic Outlook report 2019 predicts that East African economies will continue to experience further growth despite current speculation of the global economic crisis in 2020. Moreover, both the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the International Monitory Fund (IMF) agree that East Africa will continue to realise additional growth even beyond 2020. Despite these growth projections, the AfDB has raised fears that leading East African economies including Uganda (projected growth 6%) and Kenya (Projected growth 6.1%) among others are still struggling to create enough jobs for their youthful populations which remains a key obstacle to achieving sustainable growth. According to Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, the Oil and Gas sector is expected to promote substantial contribution to national revenue and additional foreign direct investments, the highest in recent times. In Uganda alone, between 100,000 to 150,000 jobs will be created at peak of crude Oil developments which is expected to lead an “employment era” and a revival for the country given its more than 77% youthful population.
On the other hand, the development of key regional infrastructure in preparation of crude oil production and allied processes has inspired a substantial pool of players from across the globe with interests to partake of the opportunities that the industry will present. Among key players are the latest entrants into the fire safety services business with a number of businesses offering a range of fire safety services and products from industrial to domestic installations. A consultation with key partners across various prospective Oil and Gas related businesses was undertaken in August, 2018 with more than 15 executives from leading companies, consulted to validate the choice of selection of key fire safety services and products. Among key areas recommended to fire safety contractors included:
- Certification for fire extinguishing services for service technicians
- Certification for fire trainers to match industry best practices following Train the Trainer programmes
- Certification for fire men and marshals to fit the particular role
- Adaptation of training programmes to match industry-specific context. With proposed achievement through increased use of simulators and technologies that minimise environmental footprint, use of technology enhanced learning among others
The survey results further revealed that most clients preferred to undertake fire safety drills and training since this was a primary requirement for most of the contracting processes and part of the requalification process within the short, medium and long term. Among popular safety products that depicted the highest demand was the fire extinguishers, sprinklers and water hydrant systems all of which necessitate that Fire safety providers invest in the certification of maintenance and installation technicians to match industry requirements as is the norm with international safety service services. However, it is not surprising to note that the occupational health and safety departments in East Africa are not adequately funded given that they are the first line of response for emergency and fire-related incidences. In fact, there is limited research on the state of occupational safety and health in East Africa as a whole.
Nevertheless, the department of occupational health and safety in Uganda among other government functions has been argued to lack adequate financing, experience, professional manpower to service the growing diversity within the industrial sector in Uganda. Most prevalent fire safety practices and preparedness have mainly been evidenced in some industrial establishments whose scale is not yet fully established. This is further highlighted by the 2014 state of occupational safety in Uganda report which emphasises the need for mandatory workplace inspections and safety compliance by Ugandan investors and partners. There are fears that the growth in the industrial base does not resonate well with the funding levels extended to line ministries which creates gaps in sectoral regulation and product/service quality guarantee.
The 2013 and 2015 UN worldwide report on human development, confirms that Uganda has been experiencing a fast-growing industrial sector steadily. The growth in industrial-scale preferably should be proportional to the growth in demand and practice for occupational health and safety services. This proportionality, however, is still low given that the industrial sector is still in its infancy and the demand for safety services is expected to grow as new and stricter players including Oil and Gas, manufacturing, engineering and allied businesses emerge. From an industrial lens, allied sectors part of which is manufacturing are still in their infancy, highly characterised with a growing scale of processing and valve addition. The world Bank reports that all sectors rely on the manufacturing sector for their take off. Therefore, the support for the development of manufacturing related skills and competences will enhance and improve manufacturing standards which will create a ripple effect on other allied sectors like Oil and Gas among others.
Leveraging on the role of recognition for prior learning, RPL in promoting and recognising local skills and talent for sustainable employment is a key ingredient in furthering local content which in turn plays a fundamental role in minimising local unemployment during take-off. There is a need to promote interventional financing for safety providers particularly at a time like this when the complexities associated with the Oil and gas and allied sectors are louring labour pains.
The 2014 industrial baseline survey report on planning for the future and promoting national content, reveals that safety products and service offerings are highlighted among key services that require future support to reach Oil and Gas desirable standards. The report also emphasises training of skilled personnel and certification of companies to international standards as an enabler for future success of Ugandan businesses to participate in the Oil and gas sector. Therefore, in recognition of safety as the number one requirement for all companies to compete for Oil and gas opportunities, Fire safety service providers ought to leverage on any available financing and investment opportunities to equip key staff in fire protection engineering trades which is a prerequisite for requalification for both local and international prospectors.