Pulak, a second year student of Chanakya National Law University, Patna analyzes the neglected aspect of Occupational safety and Health in India.
Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) can be defined as the highest degree of physical and mental well-being of workers in all occupations. The Joint ILO and WHO Committee have given three different objectives regarding occupational health; (i) the maintenance and support of workers’ health and working capacity; (ii) the continuous up-gradation of the working environment and work to be conducive to safety and health and; (iii) development of work organizations and promoting a culture that supports health and safety of workers. OSH also involves occupational hazard management and control. This includes preparedness to combat any occupational hazard and providing the workers with proper medication and insurance if suffering from an occupational disease.
Occupational Safety and Health has been one of the most neglected aspects of public health in India for a long time. There has been an increase in the number of fatalities at work due to accidents. An increase in chemical hazards in factories is also observed. There is not much reliable data about the status of occupational health in India, especially in the unorganized sector. There are statutory provisions to notify the cases of occupational diseases diagnosed and protect the workers’ health, but these are seldom implemented. The majority of the workers in India are in the unorganized sector. Those who work in the organized sector or have access to trade unions are not aware of the provisions. Even if the workers are acquainted with their rights, it is very difficult to get them enforced because of the large labor force available in the Indian market. If any worker registers his protest again the employer for not complying with the labour laws, the employer fires him and hires another person at his place.
The Directive Principles enshrined in the Constitution provide for securing the health and safety of employees, men, and women. Article 42 talks about just and humane conditions of work and maternity leave to be provided. The National Policy on Safety, Health, and Environment at Workplace (NPSHEW) was adopted in 2009, based on the principles provided by the DPSP regarding the health and safety of employees. The NPSHEW has recognized a safe and healthy working environment as a fundamental human right.
At present, there are about 16 laws related to the condition of the workplace, working hours, and conditions of service and employment in India. But majorly, there are two acts that contain the main provisions related to health, sanitation and safety of workers, The Factories Act, 1948, and The Mines Act, 1952. The main Act related to providing financial security and helping workers suffering from occupational diseases or injuries is the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948.
The 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy was an eye-opener for the government in terms of the sheer negligence and disregard for safety and the ill-preparedness of the government to combat any type of hazard in the industries. This led to the amendment in the Factories Act in 1988, after which Chapter 4A was added. It deals with provisions relating to hazardous processes like the Constitution of the site appraisal committee, inquiry committee by the government, warning workers about imminent dangers, etc. The Factories Act, 1948, also provides a list of 116 chemicals and substances in its ‘Second Schedule’ for which a maximum permissible limit has been established.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment is responsible for OSH in India. There is no separate department or agency, neither at the Centre nor the state level, that exclusively deal with matters related to OSH. At the state level, Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH) implements and monitors OSH. DISH is also responsible for the employment of factory inspectors, medical staff, and inquiry teams.
Unlike the Factories Act, The Employees’ State Insurance Act applies to non-seasonal factories employing ten or more persons and also applicable to establishments employing 20 or more persons. ESI Act also contains a list of occupational diseases under its Schedule III. These diseases are classified into three parts in the Schedule, based on their types.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is one of the major types of occupational diseases in India. COPD includes diseases like silicosis, silico-TB, byssinosis, asbestosis, and broncho-pulmonary diseases caused by hard metals.
Rajasthan, followed by Gujarat, has the highest number of silicosis cases in India. Gujarat also has the 3rd highest number of factories, after Tamil Nadu and Maharastra. Rajasthan has the highest number of mines leases in India. According to the CAG Report of 2018, the number of deaths due to silicosis had increased in Rajasthan from 1 in 2013-14 to 235 in 2016-17. The districts of Sirohi in Rajasthan and Morbi, Surendranagar and Rajkot in Gujarat account for the majority of the cases. Morbi is known for the manufacture of ceramic products, and Surendranagar is the hub of sculpture making and stone-polishing. 13 workers have died due to silicosis between November 2018 and November 2019. The temple building community of Rajasthan and Gujarat are the major victims in these cases. They have been cutting, polishing, and sculpting granite, sandstone, marble, and other types of stones for generations. Many famous Hindu and Jain temples across India are examples of their work. But the government has been negligent in these states, and even the official data related to the number of deaths due to occupational diseases are not published regularly. The data in some states is very scarce and incomplete.
Occupational Safety and Health needs to be improved in a country, especially where the major portion of the workforce is employed in unorganized and medium and small-scale industries. The majority of these industries fail to comply with various government policies. For example, the Model Factory Rules drafted under the Factories Act, 1948, has mandated provisions of the set up of Occupational Heath Centres (OHC) in hazardous industries. These rules have been adopted by all the states as their respective factory rules. But many hazardous industries do not have full-fledged OHCs. There is a dearth of OSH infrastructure and professionals. Rajasthan, in October 2019, became the second state after Haryana to implemented a particular policy for silicosis victims. Gujarat still does not have a special silicosis policy, despite having the second-highest number of silicosis cases.
Pulak is a second year student from Chanakya National Law University, Patna
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IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.