Nov 3, 2016

Compensation for death in the workplace

A fatal accident at work is defined as an accident which leads to the death of a victim. Death is usually a tragic event, especially when it occurs in the workplace. According to the International Labour Organisation, ILO, statistics indicate that “one worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide, 6000 workers die every day and more than two million workers die annually as a result of work related accidents and diseases.

In Nigeria, there is a dearth of accurate information involving fatalities arising from work injuries. One responsible cause is the underreporting of cases by private businesses and government agencies.  However, according to Ezenwa A.O, between 1987 and 1996, the annual case fatality rate ranged from 0.94 per 100 injured workers in 1990 to 5.41 in 1994, with an overall fatality rate of 2.23 per 100 injured workers. 

Of the 71 deaths, 12 (16.9%) were associated with power-driven machinery. Ten (14.1%) deaths were associated with explosions, while people falling accounted for nine (12.6%) of the deaths. Eleven deaths (15.4%) occurred in the chemical/pharmaceuticals industry, nine (12.6%) occurred in the basic metal industry and seven (9.8%) occurred in the food, beverage and tobacco industry. There were seven (9.8%) deaths in the textile manufacturing industry. The highest case fatality rate per injured worker (16.6%) occurred in the coal-petroleum industry, followed by 5.9% in the wood and wood products industry. A rate of 5.8% occurred in the non-metallic manufacturing industry.

However, more recent studies by Nnedinma Umeokafor, over an 11-year period (2002-2012), found that of the reported accidents: 80% occurred at night; manufacturers of rubber products accounted for the highest number of injuries at 53.8% and 63% for death; the total case fatality rate was 49.5, hence a significant increase in case fatality rate compared with the last study in 2001 by Ezenwa. Fire resulted in 53% of the deaths, while management factors accounted for 91.3% of the remote or contributory accident causal factors in which 90% were due to lack of training.

When death occurs in the workplace, the law provides that compensation should be paid to the family or dependents of the deceased worker.  This can be seen in Section 17(1) of the Employees Compensation Act, 2010. The act states that, “where death occurs from the injury of an employee, compensation shall be paid to the dependants of the deceased”. Section 17 also further stipulates the percentage of the deceased’s salary which shall be paid to the dependants monthly, depending on the existence of a widow/widower and the number of children left behind by the deceased employee. 

In such situations, the family members or dependants of the deceased employee may approach the employee’s employer for the purpose of ascertaining and collecting any compensation due to them. However, if the employer refuses to pay the said compensation, the dependants can file a suit at the appropriate court for adjudication over the matter. 

Though the rate of work – related deaths are on a rise, the criminal prosecutions of employers who fail to adhere to regular safety standards and to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) frameworks will also help prevent future workplace tragedies.

Adedunmade is the Principal Partner of Adedunmade Onibokun & Co., a corporate commercial law firm located in Lagos, Nigeria. He also publishes the Legalnaija blog, an online platform dedicated to educating Nigerian on their legal rights and obligations. He can be reached via