Work maims and kills, more than war

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on April 25, 2018

According to the ILO, which is gearing up to mark the World Day of Safety at Work on April 28, the young, inexperienced and low-skilled face more risks

At the start of this year, a 20-year-old garment worker at a Tirupur factory got her head and hand stuck in a machine and lost her life. Bhuvaneshwari Adimulam was a temporary worker at the knitwear factory and her death only reinforced the occupational hazards that can kill or maim employees. Temporary workers face more risks than full-timers as they don’t get the same level of safety training. Also, as Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive vice president of TeamLease Services says, “It’s the workers who are employed through informal channels who are most vulnerable when it comes to safety at work.” The worry, she says, is whether they have access to their basic entitlement around insurance and safety conditions when deployed informally.

Tsuyoshi Kawakami, senior specialist on occupational safety and health (OSH), at the International Labour Organization, notes that contract and temporary workers, as well as migrants and disabled workers are at more of a disadvantage, and many of them are women. “Because of their precarious employment status, they seldom receive safety and health protection measures and services,” he says.

However, ILO’s focus this year when it marks April 28 as the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, is on young workers, including child labour. A joint campaign with the World Day against Child Labour (marked on June 12) is planned this year.

Kawakami explains why: “Statistics show that young workers experience much higher rates of non-fatal occupational injuries than adult workers. For example, it is more than 40 per cent higher among young workers aged 18–24 in the European Union, and two times higher among young workers aged 15–24 in the US.” He says young workers are also more vulnerable to work-related diseases, though it has been difficult to capture this statistically. Globally 541 million young workers (15-24 years old) account for over 15 per cent of the world’s labour force.

Kawakami list several reasons why young workers are more at risk. “They are lacking in knowledge, skills and experiences of working safely. Often, they have neither sufficient safety and health training before starting their work, nor adequate safety supervision in their workplaces.”

A certain behaviour also kicks in. “They don’t want to give a negative impression, and are anxious to please their employers. In addition, they are lacking in representation and do not know their rights to safe and healthy workplaces, and cannot refuse hazardous work,” he says.

By all reckoning it’s the construction sector that sees the maximum deaths in India, though mining and agriculture too are counted as very hazardous. According to a paper ‘An Estimate of Fatal Accidents in Indian Construction’, by Dilipkumar Patel and Kumar Neeraj Jha, the construction industry accounts for 24.2 per cent of occupation fatalities.

What’s the way ahead? Last year, Kawakami says, the ILO along with the Indian government, workers’ organisations and employers held six regional and national consultation workshops on the issue and prioritised some steps for action. These were: Strengthening legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms, supporting active safety and health committee activities and training at the workplace, providing better health services to workers as well as safety, improving accident/disease reporting systems, and reaching small enterprises and informal economy workplaces for safety and health promotion.

Kawakami says the good news is that an increasing number of employers and managers are recognising safety and health as vital to improved productivity and business competitiveness.

Of course, the formalisation of the economy will also go a long way. The rise of professionally run staffing firms could lead to better-aware temporary workers. As Chakraborty of TeamLease points out, “Professionally run staffing companies ensure that each temp is covered under group medical and group personal accident policy and in some cases, in addition to their Employees’ State Insurance Corporation coverage as well.”

However, it’s not simple. “Flexi staff and temporary staff engaged through professional staffing firms have as much training and awareness of OSH as a permanent staff member would. The concern is how at an overall level is the organisation committed towards OSH? My understanding suggests India is scoring below acceptable standards in this regard,” she says.

It really is time to take action.

Published on April 25, 2018

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