A recent study undertaken by the British Safety Council states that 48,000 deaths occur in India annually due to organisations not following occupational safety and health (OSH) guidelines. If that was not enough an even more worrying trend is that of 38 casualties occurring in the construction industry alone on a daily basis. Unfortunately little is being done to arrest this trend as most such cases go unreported.

The Government of India framed detailed guidelines related to workers’ safety and health in 2009. However, most of them are yet to be implemented in letter and spirit by the respective state governments and their designated organisations that are tasked with labour welfare. The rampant corruption in bureaucracy works to the detriment of the labourers and is one of the key reasons of poor implementation of labour welfare guidelines. Another key reason attributed to poor OSH compliance is the reluctance on part of organisations to take concrete steps to implement these guidelines.

Inadequate education and the consequent lack of awareness at the macro level means that workers themselves do not accord high priority to occupational safety and health. Most organisations do conduct OSH training courses and sessions to create awareness, but there is clearly a need to create a cohesive strategy in this regard, one that is driven by the top management.

British Safety Council (BSC) is a UK-based not-for-profit organisation which works to create global awareness about laws and legislation and organisational guidelines in respective regions related to OSH. Workplace health, safety of workers and safe environment management are some of its priorities. It has recently opened an office in India in the commercial hub of Mumbai and plans to offer auditing, training, elearning and other support related to all domains within OSH. BSC works closely with very large Indian organisations such as Indian Oil, L&T, Mumbai International Airport, Reliance Industries and the Tata Group. To further its objectives and to increase the footprint of OSH-related initiatives, BSC formed a strategic alliance with Chennai-based NIST Institute (a popular safety training organisation) to offer courses in OSH.

Mike Robinson, CEO, British Safety Council recently stated that with 1.25 billion population India has a strong workforce of 465 million but only 20% of those are adequately covered under the existing health and safety legal guidelines. He further added that though there are enough laws to address this challenge but their implementation gets hampered due to lack of adequate manpower.

The BSC study further states that construction is apparently the most unsafe sector with every fourth accident happening there. More needs to be done in terms of safety checks at factories as there exists just one factory inspector for 506 registered factories. To elucidate its points the study points out to the NTPC boiler blast incident in UP where 40 workers lost their lives and a further 100 were seriously injured. The inquiry into the incident found out that the unit had just begun operations a short while back and so there had to be gross irregularities in the implementation of safety norms. This incident further highlights the inadequacy of inspection staff as just five officials are tasked to inspect 3270 boilers in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

The tragic incident was followed by another tragic incident in the state of Haryana where six workers were critically injured following an explosion in an oil mill in Hisar. More recently, we’ve witnessed massive fires in the Kamla Mills compound and the Mamoon residential building in Mumbai, all a result of callousness on the part of owners as well as inspection staff.

With vast amount of Indian workforce being employed in the informal sector without any formal benefits, a lot needs to be done to create a framework that safeguards the basic safety rights of workers. The top managements of the high-risk sector (construction, energy companies, chemical and gas industries, etc) and the government need to work more cohesively to ensure fool-proof safety for their employees.