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Occupational Safety and Health

  • 15 Feb 2022
  • 9 min read

This editorial is based on “A Dipping Graph in Occupational Safety” which was published in The Hindu on 14/02/2022. It talks about the scenario of occupational safety and health in India.

For Prelims: Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, Labour Bureau, Silicosis, International Labour Organisation, ILO Conventions.

For Mains: Occupational safety and health in India - Analysis, Challenges and Steps that can be taken.

India’s record in promoting occupational and industrial safety remains weak even with years of robust economic growth. Making work environments safer is a low priority, although the productivity benefits of such investments have always been clear.

The consequences are frequently seen in the form of a large number of fatalities and injuries, but in a market that has a steady supply of labour, policymakers tend to ignore the wider impact of such losses.

Although occupational safety and health (OSH) is an existential human and labour right, it has not received the due attention from law-makers and even trade unions in India.

There is a need for strong monitoring (inspections) and comprehensive databases in all the states to frame corrective actions and policies to ensure safe workplaces for all.

Occupational Safety in India

What are the Provisions for Ensuring Occupational Safety?

  • In India, the statistics concerning industrial accidents and eventually occupational safety are produced by the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment.
  • The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 spells out duties of employers and employees, and envisages safety standards for different sectors, focusing on the health and working condition of workers, hours of work, leaves, etc.
    • The code also recognises the right of contractual workers.
    • The code provides for statutory benefits like social security and wages to fixed-term employees at par with their permanent counterparts.
  • The code also brings in gender equality and empowers the women workforce.
    • Women will be entitled to be employed in all establishments for all types of work and, with consent, can work before 6 am and beyond 7 pm subject to such conditions relating to safety, holidays and working hours.

What are the Shortcomings of the Statistics Presented by the Labour Bureau?

  • The available government statistics show a decreasing trend in occupational injuries in manufacturing and mining sectors. However, when interpreting the statistics, the unregistered factories and mines are not covered.
    • During 2011-16, the number of cases of occupational diseases reported to the government in India was only 562. In contrast, a scientific article published in the National Medical Journal of India, 2016, indicates prevalence of occupational diseases such as silicosis and byssinosis.
  • The Labour Bureau compiles and publishes data on industrial injuries relating only to a few sectors, viz. factories, mines, railways, docks and ports.
    • The body has not yet expanded the scope of statistics on injuries by adding sectors such as plantations, construction, the service sector, etc.
  • Also, the data produced is not representative of the situation in India as several major States default in the provision of data to the Labour Bureau.
    • For example, during 2013-14, several major States such as Delhi, Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal defaulted, then the all-India statistics was reduced to that extent.
  • Under-reporting is another serious issue which is more likely to be in case of non-fatal injuries than fatal ones for obvious reasons.
    • There is massive under-reporting of industrial injuries in small-scale industries.

What is the Status of Employing Factory Inspectors and Inspection Rates?

  • According to the Directorate General, Factory Advice and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI), in 2019, the proportion of working in sanctioned posts for factory inspectors (employment rate) for India was 70.60%.
    • However, major States such as Maharashtra (38.93%), Gujarat (57.52%), Tamil Nadu (58.33%), and Bihar (47.62%) had poor employment rates of inspectors.
    • In 2019, there was only one inspector for every 487 registered factories (one inspector for every 25,415 workers), thus revealing the heavy workload of inspectors.
  • The inspection rates for all-India declined from 36.23% during 2008-11 to 34.65% during 2012-2015 and further to 24.76% in 2018-19.
    • While Kerala and Tamil Nadu had higher inspection rates at 63%-66%, Gujarat and Maharashtra had lower rates at 26%-30% and Haryana the lowest at 11.09% during 2008-2019.
    • The decline over the three sub-periods noted above for Maharashtra (31% to 12%) and Haryana (14% to 7%) was much higher (50% and over) than for others.
      • The inspection rates fell in almost all the States over the last 12 years.

What Can Be The Way Forward?

  • Abiding by the Conventions: India has ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 and Labour Statistics Convention, 1985, and hence, it should take immediate and strict actions to prevent the violation of these conventions.
    • It is critical that India establishes efficient Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) data collection systems to better understand the situation for effective interventions.
  • Revisiting Existing Policies: The labour codes, especially the OSH Code, the inspection and the labour statistical systems need to be reviewed as the Government is in the process of framing the Vision@2047 document for the Labour Ministry.
    • It is essential to formulate policies that go through careful scrutiny by experienced parliamentarians, aided by fresh inputs from employees, employers and experts.
    • Compromising on safety can lead to extreme consequences that go beyond factories, and leave something that is etched in the nation’s memory as in the case of the Bhopal gas disaster.
  • Public Awareness: Public awareness for preventing work-related accidents and diseases and improving hazardous working environments should also be encouraged.
    • India can undertake stronger national campaigns and awareness raising activities for workers and employers.
      • Young people are especially vulnerable to OSH risks and need to play an active role in finding OSH solutions.
    • The mass media and journalists could highlight the safety and health challenges of workers in various economic sectors and disseminate information on how to mitigate accidents and diseases.
  • OSH Committees: At the workplace level, the first thing to do is to establish OSH committees and involve workers for identifying hazards and improving OSH.
    • Workers are in the frontline to notice OSH risks and implement solutions.
    • It has been well established that a safe and healthy workplace is a productive and dynamic one, leading to sustainable businesses.

Conclusion

The world of work is undergoing profound changes. It is important for governments, employers and workers, and other stakeholders to seize the opportunities to create a safe and healthy future workplace for all. Their day-to-day efforts to improve safety and health at work can directly contribute to the sound socioeconomic development of India.

Drishti Mains Question

"A safe and healthy workplace is a productive and dynamic one. It directly contributes to the sound socioeconomic development of India.". Comment.

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