Deadly labour

R Srinivasan | Updated on January 23, 2018


India’s worksite safety standards are appalling

Last month, in Katni, near Bhopal, an inebriated man returning from a village fair fell into a large pit in a road which was being repaired at night. Road workers, who failed to see him in the dark, then proceeded to bury him alive in rubble and bitumen. The incident made global headlines, with social media wits discovering much humour in the perils of falling down drunk. But behind those WhatsApp jokes lies a grim reality: worksite safety standards are appallingly poor in India, and claim hundreds of lives every year, while leaving many more horribly injured and disabled for life. Whatever rules and regulations that exist are observed more in the breach.

Take the Katni incident, for example. While the hapless dumper operator and the worker have been arrested, there has been no word of action against the contractor executing the work, or the authorities overseeing it. The work area was not cordoned off as per regulations, which would have prevented the man falling in, in the first place. Clearly, the work area was also poorly lit, which is why nobody saw him, although rules require sites operating heavy machinery at night to be adequately lit.

The situation in India’s virtually unregulated construction sector is worse. There are no figures available. ILO, the global labour watchdog noted ( Decent Work — Safe Work, ILO Introductory Report to the XVIIth World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, 2005) that India reported fewer work-related fatalities than the Czech Republic, whose working population is less than 1 per cent of India’s. ILO estimated (in 2009) that the construction sector alone accounted for over a million deaths per year worldwide, with the highest incidents in booming, but poorly regulated markets such as China and India. And nobody is bothered. A 2013 Bill, ‘The Building and Other Construction Workers Related Laws(Amendment) Bill 2013’, which sought to update outdated laws on safety and worker compensation, is still pending passage in Parliament.

Senior Associate Editor

Published on October 19, 2015

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