A study conducted in April-May 2013, “Health, Safety and Welfare of Industrial Workers in Ahmedabad”, in the and around industrial areas of the city – Naroda, Asarwa, Narol, Ramol, Vatva, Dholka, Bavla, Kharaj and Kalol – has found that 67 per cent of factories these areas do not have any safety committees, which should be internally formed and whose main job is hazard identification, accident investigation, record keeping and evaluation. These factory committees are meant to examine safety and health issues, and recommend policies; conduct periodic workplace inspections; and evaluate and promote interest in the safety programme, particularly education and training.
Conducted by Kamdar Swasthya Suraksha Mandal (KSSM), a voluntary organization in Ahmedabad which works on workers’ occupational health and safety issues, the study has found that about 67 per cent of the factories in and around Ahmedabad are not providing training to workers regarding health and safety. It further found that only 33 per cent of factories carry out regular inspection of machineries, which suggests that 67 per cent factories’ machineries are in a situation where accidents may occur. Nearly 56 per cent of factories dispose of their effluents and wastes efficiently, while others do not. And regular medical checkup of workers is carried out only in 17 per cent of the factories.
The study, which is based on spot survey by visiting factories, found that in the engineering units, where cutting and welding work is done, defective protection mask is provided to welders and fitters, and there is a serious risk to the eyes and the face due to welding sparks. Based on visits to the factories, the study regrets, “Safety equipments are provided only during inspections alone. In some cotton factories, it was observed that cotton dust was spread everywhere — like on extinguishers and sockets of light. High level of noise was also found in some of the departments of cotton factories. In these departments, either earplugs were not provided or workers did not wear even though they were provided. Safety masks were given to workers, but due to itching on face, the workers did not wear them.”
The study further says, “In some factories, it has been found that canteens were provided, but healthy food was not available in it. So, even after spending money on canteens by the management, the workers had to bring meal from home. Safety committee in some factories did not function well because of management influence and prevalence of lack of education among the workers. This led to stress and fatigue among the workers. Personal protection equipments like earplugs, earmuffs and gum boots etc. were provided at few places. The noise level was very high at many factories.”
While pointing out that workers have to work for long hours and their wages are low, the study regrets, “Workers neglect safety steps until they don’t face any major problem or disability. They lack safety training, which is the responsibility of the management.” It adds, “The temperature was found to be very high in many factories. There was a time when ice plates were arranged to reduce temperatures. But such arrangements are not found for quite some time.”
Coming to the welfare facilities provided by the factories, the study found that the chawls provided by the employers were not in good condition. In fact, toilets were found to be in bad condition at most places, and only one toilet was working properly out of five. It was also found that “roofs of houses were in risky condition.” Water made available in the chawls was polluted. “After some time, the color of water would become yellow”, the study said, adding, “The arrangement for drainage was poor. Drainages were at most places blocked due to waste and garbage.”
The study found that “specific persons looking after safety in order to ensure healthy working conditions are never appointed.” In fact, “an officer from the maintenance department or the production department looks after safety measures, despite the fact that they do not having any in-depth knowledge of health and safety measures and probable hazards. There is an urgent need to appoint a technical and knowledgeable expert for the safely of workers.”
The study says, “Regular monitoring and administration of working conditions was found missing. In the current scenario, as the supply of labour is low, high wages along with other facilities should be given to workers. Yet, workers live in stressful conditions. In fact, workers working in textile mills, especially in blow room and card room of the respected mills, suffered from the lung disease — bysinosis . Yet, workers were not aware of it.”
The study further says, “The Employees’ State Insurance Scheme (ESIS) and the Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) have sufficient provisions regarding medical insurance and compensation. But workers do not have not full knowledge of it. Hence, sometimes they go to private hospitals even though they are covered under Employees State Insurance (ESI) Act, 1948.“
Pointing towards urgent need to make workers aware of ESIS and ESIC and the laws that govern the workers’ safety in factories, the study underlines, “There is a also the need to give safety training to workers so that they know what are probable diseases or hazards.” Additionally, “by creating a safety committee, representatives of workers and management can be trained for different measures of safety and health.”
The study underlines, “The number of industrial of physicians is limited. Industrial physicians are specialized persons who have of in-depth knowledge of occupational health. The safety committees, therefore, should take action in this direction. Then, there is always the need to have a collaborative action between ESIC, ESIS, management, and the NGO for spreading awareness about the issue.” It adds, “Nowadays, managements do make arrangement to cover workers under ESIS and ESIC. It is a positive sign. But ESI hospitals are far from the place of stay of workers. This should be taken care by the ESI.”
The study recalls recommendations of the second National Commission on Labour to say that there should be a “composite law for smaller establishments employing 19 or less workers, providing for safety, health and welfare, hours of work, payment of wages etc.” The commission also wanted that “the scheme of workers’ participation in management should be made compulsory for all establishments with more than 300 workers”, adding, “Under this system joint management councils should be constituted at the plant level.”
The study says, as per the provisions of Section 41 and 41-G of the Factories Act, 1948, all factories with more than 250 workers should carry out periodical medical examination of persons employed. It also prohibits into employment persons not certified as fit. As for the units covered under Section 2(cb) of the Factories Act, 1948 and employing more than 50 workers, where raw materials or the intermediate or finished products, byproducts, wastes or effluents thereof would cause material impairment to the health of the persons engaged in or connected therewith, three major functions for the safety committee are recommended: (1) Examine safety and health issues and recommend policies. (2) Conduct periodic workplace inspections. And (3) Evaluate and promote interest in the safety programme via education and training.
In fact, the study says, the factories committees are obliged to carry out hazard identification, accident investigation, record keeping and evaluation. There should be joint management councils at the plant level, which should discuss various matters relating to the working of the industry. Their task administering welfare measures, supervision of safety and health schemes, scheduling of working hours, rewards for suggestions etc. They should “take up issues related to accident prevention, management of canteens, water, meals, revision of work rules, absenteeism, indiscipline etc.”, the study suggests.
In conclusion, the study says, “In India manpower is the most important resource of production and prosperity. Workers are a major part of this manpower. Past experience of the labour movement shows that there is a burning need to protect and evaluate them as a prosperous resource. Good health and safety are inevitable elements of working people. So, there is a need to remove the danger or unsafe conditions. Only instructions or posters of safety are not sufficient. If dangerous or unsafe conditions can’t be removed completely, risky elements should be isolated.” And if these cannot be stopped, the workers must be provided with “personal protective equipments (earplugs, helmets, gum boots, goggles etc.).”