An Insight into Occupational Safety & Health at Workplace in India

Date:   Tuesday , February 21, 2017

American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is a U.S. based non-profit organization responsible for framing the standards for Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) excellence and ethics. It also promotes the expertise, leadership and commitment of its members by providing them with professional development, advocacy and standards development.

The economy of India is the sixth largest economy in the world measured by nominal GDP and the third largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). The country is classified as a newly industrialized country, one of the G-20 major economies, a member of BRICS and a developing economy with an average annual growth rate of approximately seven percent over the last two decades. India, a growing economy and world\'s largest democracy, has population exceeding 1.25 billion, of which 65 percent of them are below the age of 35. The long-term growth prospective of the Indian economy is positive due to its young population. The Indian economy has the potential to become the world\'s third largest economy by the next decade, and one of the two largest economies by mid-century. More than 90 percent work in the informal economy mainly comprises of agriculture and services. Less than 10 percent work in the organized sector; mainly industry, mining and some services. New service industries like Information Technology (IT) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) are increasing rapidly, and so is the proportion of women in the workforce.

The occupational safety and health (OS&H) scenario in India is complex in nature. Constitutional provisions form the basis of workplace safety and health laws in India by imposing a duty on the State to implement policies that promote the safety and health of workers at workplaces. In addition, safety and health statutes for regulating occupational safety and health of persons at work exist in different sectors namely manufacturing, mining, ports and construction. The regulations in place in these four sectors include the Factories Act-1948 as amended in 1987, the Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act - 1986, the Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation and the Employment and Conditions of Service) Act - 1996, the Child labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act - 1986, the Mines Act - 1952, as amended in 1957, and the Mines Rules - 1957.

In addition, there are also other specific regulations on particular hazards or focused on particular sectors and territories. Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) in India is the primary responsibility of the Ministry of Labour and other State Labour Departments in the country. The Ministry of Labour has also issued a National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at the Workplace. The Directorate General, Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) is an attached office to the Ministry of Labour which liaises with the State Factory Inspectorates and advises them on the administration of the Factories Act - 1948. The DGFASLI provides training to inspectors of factories and technical personnel from the industries and also conducts multi-disciplinary surveys in industries and ports.

The Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS) assists the Ministry of Labour in the technical aspects of occupational Health & Safety in mines. DGMS is subordinate to the office of the Ministry of Labour and through drafting appropriate legislation and setting standards by overseeing compliance as intensively as its resources permit, and through a variety of promotional initiatives and awareness programs, the DGMS exercises preventive as well as educational influence over the mining industry.

In addition, India has ratified 41 ILO (International Labour Organization) Conventions to ensure that occupational health and safety practices are adopted in line with these international guidelines. Enforcement of labor laws must be strengthened in India through empowered institutions, inside as well as outside the formal economy. In the organized sector, both private and public sector have well developed OS&H based on ISO, national & international standards and ILO conventions. On the other hand, currently there is no dedicated government agency or department that deals exclusively with OS&H matters in unorganized sectors. OS&H practices in the largest unorganized sector need to be enhanced in India.

As per the regulatory requirements, DGFASLI maintains the data of OS&H incidents, but the data needs to be updated on regular basis by reporting all incidents in a timely manner. To create a national data base, there is a need for uniformity in implementing some of the Occupational Safety and Health systems in industries. There are several companies in India certified with international standards such as ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001 and ILO-OSH 2001, which are helping to reduce work-related injuries or illness to the workers at the workplace. Adoption of these standards by all industries will go a long way in reducing occupational injuries and promoting health and well-being of the workers at work.

Moreover, in the recent past, some key factors such as globalization, outsourcing, transfer of technology and new tools are helping the industries towards improved OS&H practices in India. Another important factor in India is a judicial system which has had a positive impact on matters of public interest. Indian judiciary system is very receptive to public interest litigation on matters of OS&H.

There is a strong need to create OS&H awareness in India among all stakeholders such as lawmakers, employers, employees, contractors and the general public. OS&H practices need to be focused on including educational curricula at all levels of school, university and technical education. Public awareness on hazards of environmental pollution and diseases caused by exposure to harmful substances and poor hygiene should be created through mass media. Particularly, the unorganized sector needs OS&H training and effective awareness campaigns.

India by virtue of its sustaining economic growth, having huge young population, and with its abundant natural resources is an important country in the world, but has been slow in adopting the high standards of OS&H. In the recent past, the adoption of international OS&H standards in India are steadily improving in Indian industries with the implementation of ISO standards, evolution of internet for easy accessibility of OS&H standards, and establishment of chapters in India by global professional OS&H societies.