Have you ever wondered (or actually experienced) what it’s like to be separated from your family and friends? How about trying to escape persecution when death seems to be right at the foot of your door? Most people would, perhaps do whatever it takes to survive to see the faces of their loved ones once more. This is the case for a young boy named Agu, played by Abraham Attah in the 2015 film entitled “Beasts of No Nation”. For us- health and safety officers in training, this movie exposed a plethora of health and safety violations that, in reality if they occurred, would have resulted in much more serious consequences. We were able to diagnose several health and safety breaches, along with multiple hazards and risks- both prominent and obscure in nature, and provide remedies on how to alleviate them.
Synopsis of Movie:
The storyline begins with the outbreak of a civil war in an African country where young Agu is forced to flee from his village after his family was torn apart by the troops of the National Reformation Council who have invaded their village. After wandering around in the forest, he is found by a rebel army and is forced to become a child soldier in a bid to survive. The leader who is called Commandant (Idris Elba) orders training for Agu who learns to kill, use drugs and battle. The Commandant begins to abuse his power and is then demoted by his superior. After exhausting their resources of food, money and ammunition, the members decide to rebel against the Commandant in an attempt to leave the group. They are then rescued by the United Nations troops and are taken to an ocean-side camp for rehabilitation. There, Agu receives counseling and is able to socialize with other children and once again live a life he once knew.
The hazards that we pinpointed in the movie fell under the categories of physical, ergonomic, psychological, biological, fire and chemical. The specific hazards from the movie are identified and discussed, and recommendations for their alleviation are subsequently stated.
Physical hazards are defined as “factors within the environment that can harm the body without necessarily touching it. Vibration and noise are examples of physical hazards. Physical hazards include, but are not limited to electricity, radiation, pressure, noise, heights and vibration among many others” (Comcare 2016.)
With the ongoing war, grenades are randomly released from hovering helicopters over forested areas, as well as over the camp where Agu and his fellow members of the NDF are staying. These explosives contribute to the destruction of infrastructure such as houses, villages, surrounding trees and animals. In addition, it results in physical injuries, death and often times initiates bush fires. Section 34 of The Occupational Safety and Health Act of Trinidad and Tobago (2004) as Amended (2006) addresses noise and vibration and states that adequate steps should be taken to prevent hearing impairment and disease caused by any such noise and/or vibration from occurring to persons. It also highlights the duty of the employer to ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn where mandatory.
Another physical hazard seen in the movie is in one of the opening scenes where children are seen playing around the dilapidated area on which their school once stood. There are sharp, dangerous objects that serve as risks, particularly to the young children who are running through the area and playing carefree without supervision. To safeguard the lives of the villagers, that area should have temporarily been quarantined to prohibit access to it, by way of warning signs, caution tape and/or appropriate fencing and the debris cleared up as soon as possible. The children ought to be supervised by their parents and guardians to ensure their lives are not at risk and that they do not face any hazards.
Fierce gun battles and explosions result in a large projection of noise which can result in both immediate and cumulative impairment to hearing, particularly to very young children and the elderly. An article entitled “Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague” highlights seven adverse health effects of noise. These include: hearing impairment, interference with spoken communication, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular disturbances, disturbances in mental health, impaired task performance, and negative social behaviour and annoyance reactions. All the members of the battalion under the instruction of the Commandant suffered from more than one of these negative effects to their health. The character, Strika for instance who was already a member of the NDF when Agu joined never says a word in the movie, however, he is able to communicate in other ways. Perhaps prolonged exposure to loud noises is what led him to have an impaired ability to speak.
During the war the men, who wore very minimal to no sort of personal protective equipment (PPE) were exposed to a lot of inevitable smoke and gunpowder inhalation which put them at great risk for respiratory illness. According to Section 32 of The OSH Act, respiratory protection of an approved standard should be provided and maintained by use of all persons. Therefore, the men should have been given appropriate equipment to support respiratory protection.
Within the village itself poverty is evident. There exists dilapidated infrastructure, which previously sustained severe damage due to the raging warfare. As such, the occupants and those in the vicinity of these buildings are most susceptible to getting injured. The fallen houses present slip, trip and fall hazards due to the rubble left behind.
Figure 1: Aftermath of an explosion in the village.
Figure 2: Damaged houses and rubble as a result of warfare.
It was observed that the NDF soldiers did not have PPE, whereas the members of the other legions were fully outfitted in helmets, boots, gloves and army suits. The only equipment and ammunition Agu and his fellow soldiers had was what they had stolen from opposing troops that they killed. Despite this, there was still insufficient PPE for every member of the NDF to receive full protection.
Figure 3: Agu and his NDF members without proper PPE.
Ergonomic hazards are those hazards that harm the musculoskeletal system due to repetitive movement, improper handling of equipment, job or tasks or poor body positioning. (Australian Government- Comcare n.d.).
Figure 4: Poor posture and body positioning to full the container with water
As displayed in Figure 4 above, we see a young boy bending to full water into a container. In order to obtain water from this particular pipe, he has to pull up the lever and continuously push down to pump the water. This continuous pumping action can cause strain and sprain to arms, shoulders and back. He then has to lift this container which is obviously too heavy for someone his size to be carrying, resulting in him appearing to be straining. Instead, to transport the container of water, there is the option of someone greater in size who is capable of handling a heavier load should be carrying it, or two people can take turns carrying it, or perhaps two persons can share the weight and carry it together.
Figure 5 below shows us that the boy has to bend in an awkward position to sweep because the broom is very short. Bending at such an angle, for such a long period of time can result in back injuries due to the poor body positioning and posture required to carry out such a task. To remedy this, it is recommended that a broom with a longer stick (preferably about the same length as the height of the individual) be used to avoid having to bend consistently.
Figure 5: Poor posture and body positioning required to sweep ground
Moreover, there is a football scene in the movie where the guys are seen kicking and passing the ball to each other and aiming at the goal post. This can result in injuries such as ankle sprains, strained or torn ligaments, and back and spinal injuries if, for instance, one of them is to fall. This can lead to permanent disability if the injury sustained is severe.
Under The OSH Act, Section 35 1 states that an industrial establishment shall not be so overcrowded as to cause risk of injury to the health of the persons employed therein. Violation of this was evident in the movie where we saw the soldiers getting a ride on the tray of vans. The vehicle was over packed to the extent that the position required to sit while being transported could possibly lead to serious back injuries for the soldiers.
Psychological hazards are identified as “any hazard that affects the mental well-being or mental health of the worker by overwhelming individual coping mechanisms and impacting the worker’s ability to work in a healthy and safe manner” (Physiotherapy Alberta- n.d.). There is no denying that there were numerous psychological hazards which could have affected not only those who fought in the civil war, but also those who were forced to flee from their village and depart from their loved ones indefinitely.
Shown in the Figure 6, is the devastated Agu when both his parents were taken away from him. His mother had to leave the village to protect herself and her young children from danger, while her husband, older son and Agu had to stay behind to defend their village against the troops.
To add insult to injury, Agu witnesses both his father and older brother being shot dead right in front of him. He then scampers off with his friend to escape the bullets. Unfortunately, shortly after his friend is shot dead while running away. Agu witnesses all these people he was once close to being executed within a couple of minutes. Devastated indeed, this then led to Agu becoming emotionally distraught and frustrated due to the absence of both his parents from what appears to be his already challenging life. Only now he must continue to face all the harsh realities that follow without the love and guidance of his loved ones. According to developmental psychology at Vanderbilt, it is said that “a parent has the influence over the emotions of a child, where a parent’s emotional involvement is imperative to the outcome of the child’s emotional competence and regulation”. Therefore, due to Agu’s parents being absent from his life, it has led him to become depressed, confused and feeling extremely alone at times.
Figure 6 : Agu’s emotional reaction when his mother was leaving him behind in the village.
Figure 7 depicts Agu’s great friend “Strika” who, after surviving a long and hard battle eventually dies from sustaining a gunshot that was plunged into his abdomen by their enemies. Losing a dear friend can cause you to feel devastated and heartbroken. Agu has lost a friend whom he has grown close to since he joined the force to battle the armed forces.
Figure 7 : The dead body of “Strika” after being shot by the armed forces
Subsequently, Figure 8 shows where Agu is sent to a children’s home after being rescued by the United Nations armed forces at the end of his gruesome battle. During his stay at the home, he has a hard time transitioning from a life of war and tribulation back to a normal life that he once lived in his village. At nights, he would experience traumatic nightmares. These included seeing images of guns and dead bodies around him. It even got worse when he could have smelled the decaying body of those who were killed during the time of war, an experience no one would like to have in life. These abnormal occurrences indicate that Agu may be suffering from a post traumatic stress disorder which is developed in some people who have experienced a shocking event in their life. It consists of flashbacks of the events over and over, bad dreams and frightening thoughts, all of which was experienced by Agu (Bartok et al 2013).
Figure 8 : Agu having nightmares at night when asleep
Biological hazards include sources of bacteria, viruses, insects, plants, birds, animals, and humans. These biological hazardous sources can result in a number of health effects, from skin irritations to infections and even a far as death. Figure 9 shows Agu helping his mother to prepare a meal. As seen, the area where the storage and preparation of the food is being done is poorly kept and is not sanitized. This increases the possibility for rodents and other harmful animals to feed and also contaminate their food, as well as the risk for the family to become unwell. Some of the major health risks involved with rodent or bacteria contamination include salmonella, gastroenteritis, diarrhea and hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome collapsed. According to The OSH Act, Part VI Health Section 31 which deals with cleanliness, it relates to this case where it was poorly observed.
Figure 9: Agu helps his mother prepare a meal for their family.
In continuing with the biological hazards, a scene in the movie shows where the NDF’s food and water supplies are all used up. They are subsequently forced to consume contaminated water. Some men become very ill, while others died. As shown in Figure 10 below, observations with regards to the soldiers wading through contaminated, murky waters also caught our attention. When contaminated water comes into contact with the skin, bacteria can easily be transferred into the blood stream, which results in becoming unwell or even death. Some of the major diseases that can be contracted through dirty water are cholera, hepatitis A, malaria and diarrhea. According to The OSH Act Part VII Welfare, Sections 39, 42 and 43 there is mention for proper drinking water, accommodation for clothes and first aid equipment. Neither of these were observed in this movie.
Figure 10 : Soldiers wading through contaminated, murky waters out in the woods.
A fire hazard can be defined as conditions that favor fire development or growth. There are three elements required to start and sustain a fire: oxygen, fuel and heat. Since oxygen is naturally present in most earth environments, fire hazards usually involve the mishandling of fuel or heat. Fire, or combustion, is a chemical reaction between oxygen and a combustible fuel. Combustion is the process by which fire converts fuel and oxygen into energy, usually in the form of heat (Michael Speegle- n.d.). The products of combustion include light and smoke. For the reaction to start, a source of ignition, such as a spark or open flame, or a sufficiently-high temperature is needed. Given a sufficiently-high temperature, almost every substance will burn. The ignition temperature or combustion point is the temperature at which a given fuel can burst into flames (Mapua Institute of Technology- n.d.).
Figure 11 : Agu’s mother preparing a meal in the kitchen
In the Figure 11, it shows Agu’s mother preparing a meal in their kitchen. However, due to the resources available to them, their kitchen poses a major fire hazard. Without a source of fuel, there is no fire hazard. However, almost everything in our environment can be a fuel. Fuels occur as solids, liquids, vapors and gases.
In the image, it is evident that many solid fuels exist. This is due to improper facilities and equipment. The wood they use to cook is a source of fuel and, if left unattended, it can lead to their kitchen being engulfed in flames.
The burning down of the huts also poses as a fire hazard. The direct or near contact with flame, also known as “thermal radiation” is obviously dangerous to humans. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics show that most people die in fires from suffocation or breathing smoke and toxic fumes (The Basics of Occupational Safety; Second Edition David L. Goetsch).
There were a few chemical hazards that were evident throughout the movie. Chemical hazards are caused by exposure to chemicals and other toxins in the environment that can become harmful and life-threatening to individuals. The picture in Figure 12 below shows where bombs have exploded in the community where villagers, animals and infrastructure are located. Explosions like this can be especially dangerous in areas where there are toxic chemical substances. These substances can then be released into the atmosphere causing death or harm to humans and animals through explosions, or from inhalation or direct contact.
Figure 12: The explosions created by bombs in community areas
Another chemical hazard is discovered at Agu’s home where the household products that are used can be hazardous if they are not properly secured or stored at the right temperature. In Figure 13, Agu and his mother are preparing a meal. On the left of the picture a yellow container is seen. We are unsure if it contains a substance that can induce a chemical hazard, however, if it does contain toxic material it should be stored elsewhere, especially away from the young children who live in the home.
Figure 13: Agu and his mother preparing a meal with the presence of potentially hazardous chemicals surrounding.
This report explores the various types of health and safety violations, hazards, and risks present in this exhilarating film. Several recommendations on how to diminish these are also mentioned. “Beasts of No Nation” has heightened our awareness to the treacherous risks and hazards that most people are not privy to. We pose a challenge to you, readers of this blog to concern yourselves with the hazards and risks that are present in our everyday lives and to find ways to lessen them as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP). Risks and hazards are some of the beasts that endanger the lives of all nations; we must therefore, like the title of the movie, seek to make them the “Beasts of No Nation”.
Beasts of No Nation. Dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga. Perf. Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Affadzi. N.p., 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.
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