Skip to main content

Occuational safety? Indian factories record 21 fatal accidents per 10 lakh, EU less than 2

By Jagdish Patel*
The world of developing countries is very vast, and spreads across multiple continents. Among these countries we can see wide variety of political systems, governance, economic situations, demography, culture, labour laws and its enforcement, numbers of workers in formal and informal sectors and difficulties in recording and reporting of accidents and occupational diseases. This leaves a narrow range for comparison.
Among developing countries, some are better in collecting data on occupational accidents and diseases while some are very poor. From the data available, a wide gap is observed in the ratio of illnesses to injuries recorded between developed and developing countries.

Reporting of fatal and non-fatal injuries at work:

Laws for safety and health at work in India have provisions to report the accidents and occupational diseases, but enforcement is so weak that there is a huge gap between the estimated fatal and non-fatal accidents reported by ILO for India, and the figures reported to ILO by the Indian Government.
The average rate of reported fatal accidents in Indian-registered factories per 1,000,000 workers employed in the years 2010-2013 was 20.85, while it was 1.53 for the European Union in the same period. Based on occupational injury rates estimated by the World Bank, the risk of fatal and non-fatal occupational injury in China and India is about two and a half times higher than in the Economic Established Market region (basically Europe and North America).
This difference is five times higher in the Sub-Saharan Africa economic region. Countries with developed economies have the lowest rates. Fatal rates in Sweden and the United Kingdom are 1.9 and 0.8 per 100,000 workers, respectively, while in Mozambique or Kenya the fatality rates are 21.6 per 100,000 workers, similar to that in Bolivia, where the fatality rate is 21.9 (2007 report).

Reporting of occupational diseases:

Some data on accidents are available but there is paucity of data on occupational diseases. Diagnosis of occupational disease is still such a rare event that in many developing countries even the first case is not reported. Medical professionals in public and private sectors are not reporting cases of occupational diseases for several reasons.
The Ministry of Labour of the Government of India published data for occupational diseases in India for years 2014, 2015 and 2016. In these three years, 132 cases of occupational diseases were notified by only 5 states of India. The rest either did not diagnose or failed to report.

Why cases are not being reported:

Private medical practitioners are sometimes hesitant to notify occupational diseases because they are concerned that the victim may loss his/her job, or that no one will take care for his/her rehabilitation or compensation. Thus notification may push the victim to the corner. Also, notification may not help reduce recurrence as the law enforcement agency may not take any action to improve the work environment.
Each elected Government has their pressing issues, priorities and political compulsions. Elected Governments drive the policy and influence law enforcement and administration. In different countries, local issues are different, but the common thread is, generating resources will always have the top most priority.
Industry is sometimes given leeway, which impacts notifications against employment generation. In public life and execution, personal gains in mutual interest impact enforcement in general, and for notifications in particular.
Jagdish Patel

Social environment and government policies:

In India, there are still thousands of people who do not know where they were born and when. The literacy rate in India stands at 74% (2011) which may be an indicator, though it does not assure that people know their legal rights. Unionization is very weak and existing trade unions have further weakened in the last two decades.
Society is riddled with divisions on the lines of religion, caste, colour, region and language. Social and economic inequality, poor governance, rule of the mighty, legacy of feudal thought, and huge economical gaps are hindrances in achieving labour rights. And now under the “ease of doing business,” labour laws are further liberalized to push more workers out of the purview of the law. Vacancy in state and central labour ministries is mounting.
State and central governments are curbing powers of enforcement agencies by amending policies for inspection of workplaces. Overall, it does not provide a conducive social environment for reporting of accidents and occupational diseases.

Health care services:

Diagnosis and reporting of occupational diseases is benighted. In India, 80% of health care is provided by the private sector, which is not monitored under any law. In rural parts, health care is provided by unqualified medical practitioners who do not have knowledge of occupational health.
Incomprehension of legal provisions and occupational health among rural and private medical professionals is egregious. The state is not investing in making the legal provision known.

Whose responsibility:

Dissonance prevails between the labour department and the health department about their duties. Setting up a separate cell on occupational health within the health department and making them responsible to monitor the health of workers in all economic sectors may be a solution.

The situation is changing slowly:

In the last two decades, we have observed change, though slowly. Despite all odds there are some positive stories of change. Setting up a clinic for screening or organizing diagnosis camps at irregular time periods have been used successfully by grass root groups to generate scientific data on occupational diseases like silicosis and asbestosis.
Data so generated have been presented before the National Human Rights Commission to get directions from the commission for the State on prevention, rehabilitation and compensation. In South Africa, the State Compensation Board organized diagnosis camps for past gold mine workers not only in South Africa but also neighboring countries from where workers used to migrate.
Activists have successfully helped victims of occupational diseases by bridging the information gap between the doctor and the victim by collating information on exposures and locating probable materials causing the disease. In some cases, state policy was positively influenced by grass root organizations to set up a system to confirm occupational disease and pay compensation.
In the days to come, technology may help ease notifications, which may encourage experts to report the cases they come across. Public hospitals may set up a system for diagnosis of occupational diseases following public pressure. Though at low speed, positive changes have also been witnessed in countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Thailand and Malaysia.

What can be done:

  1. The state has a major role to play. Let it invest in propagating legal provisions. Associations of medical practioners can also be encouraged. Workers, trade unions and non-profits may be educated on notifiable occupational diseases
  2. The government can provide assistance to industry to improve the work environment.
  3. The central government should name one single competent authority for all cases notified from mines, manufacturing, services and other sectors. Amend the law to empower any citizen to notify a case.
  4. The notifications should be online and should be accessible to the public so that possibility of changing the record by the authority can be minimized or diminished.
  5. Anonymity of the notifier should be allowed. Confidentiality should be respected at all levels.
  6. Multiple approaches are needed – surveillance, data collated from research, data from social security and compensation claims.
  7. Out-patient departments may be opened in all public hospitals for diagnosis of occupational diseases. Private hospitals also may be encouraged.
  8. Encourage medical colleges to diagnose and report occupational diseases. Medical boards should confirm reported cases, and should be set up in all medical colleges. A system for appeal should also be set up for review and appeal
  9. Demonstration projects may be taken up in hospitals to set up systems to diagnose and report occupational diseases. Under the project, para-medical staff may be trained to record occupational history, and experts should be encouraged to use them.
  10. Training programs may be developed to train personnel in recording occupational history.
  11. There should be legal provisions for qualified occupational health professionals to submit annual updates of the cases they may have seen.
  12. Society, in general, should invest more in occupational safety and health rights including diagnosis and notifications of occupational diseases and accidents.

Future of work:

In India and some other developing countries, one can see the change happening and that the process of change continues to progress and strengthen further. As developing countries get economically stronger, governance may improve, reflected by better data on occupational injuries and diseases. People with more political power may lead to develop technology and a social atmosphere where reporting of occupational diseases will be easier.
With technological advancement, working conditions may improve which would reduce occupational diseases. On the other hand, global warming, use of modern technology like robots, driverless vehicles, 3D printing, artificial intelligence may generate joblessness or an increase in unemployment in developing countries.
The population in democratic countries votes to choose the Government they want in power. They have to choose between conservative and progressive political parties. The choice impacts overall life including labour rights and notifications.
---
* Director, Peoples Training & Research Centre, India. This is one of the 33  "think pieces" by experts from across the world, prepared for the International Labour Organization's centenary anniversary, to be observed on April 28. This year, it would take stock of the work in improving occupational safety and health over the last 100 years

Comments

TRENDING

India under Modi among top 10 autocratizing nations, on verge of 'losing' democracy status

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are -- Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam*
RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Gujarat link of controversial US doctor who 'forced' WHO quiz Trump's wonder drug

By Rajiv Shah
A top American doctor, Sapan Sharankishor Desai, born and raised in the “affluent” North Shore (Chicago) region of Illinois by Indian parents, at one point of time involved in NGO activity through  dedicated to “improving” the lives of the impoverished in Gujarat, is in the eyes of a major international storm following his paper (retracted) in a “Lancet” questioning Donald Trump-promoted drug hydroxychloroquine.

Border conflict? RBI nod India's 'brotherly' help to China internationalise its currency

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
In the middle of a global pandemic, China started an unprovoked border conflict with India. It unraveled trust deficit and ties between the two neighbours. As thousands of Chinese troops tried occupying Indian territory, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government directs the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to allow the Bank of China to start regular banking services in India. The Bank of China will now operate in India like any other commercial banks.

RSS supremo Deoras 'supported' Emergency, but Indira, Sanjay Gandhi 'didn't respond'

By Shamsul Islam*
National Emergency was imposed on the country by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 25-26, 1975, and it lasted for 19 months. This period is considered as ''dark times' for Indian democratic polity. Indira Gandhi claimed that due to Jaiprakash Narayan's call to the armed forces to disobey the 'illegal' orders of Congress rulers had created a situation of anarchy and there was danger to the existence of Indian Republic so there was no alternative but to impose Emergency under article 352 of the Constitution.

Clean chit to British rulers, Muslim League? Karnataka to have Veer Savarkar flyovers

By Shamsul Islam*
The BJP government of Karnataka led by BS Yediyurappa is going to honour Hindutva icon VD Savarkar by naming two of the newly built major flyovers in Bangalore and Mangalore after him. There was a huge uproar against this decision of the RSS-BJP government as many pro-Kannada organisations with opposition parties and liberal-secular organizations questioned the logic to ignore so many freedom fighters, social reformers and others from within the state.

Hurried nod to Western Ghat projects: 16 lakh Goans' water security 'jeopardised'

Counterview Desk
Taking strong exception to "virtual clearances" to eco-sensitive projects in the Western Ghats, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in a statement has said urged for a review of the four-lane highway, 400 KV transmission line and double tracking of the railway line through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa.

Disturbing signal? Reliance 'shifting focus' away from Indian petrochemical sector

By NS Venkataraman*
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), a large Indian company, has expanded and grown in a spectacular manner during the last few decades, like of which no industrial group in India has performed before. RIL is now involved in multi various activities relating to petroleum refineries, petrochemicals, oil and gas exploration, coal bed methane, life sciences, retail business, communication network, (Jio platform) media/entertainment etc.

Case for nationalising India's healthcare system amidst 'strong' private control

Counterview Desk
A draft discussion note, prepared by Dr Maya Valecha, a Gujarat-based gynecologist and activist, sent to the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as also a large number of activists, academics and professionals as an email alert, is all set to create a flutter among policy experts for its strong insistence on nationalizing India’s healthcare system.