India must seize the opportunity to create safe and healthy workplace
According to the recent estimates released by the International Labour Organization (ILO), 2.78 million workers die every year from occupational accidents and work-related diseases, and 313 million workers suffer from non-fatal occupational accidents and diseases. It means that 7,500 people die every day due to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.
In India, available government statistics show a decreasing trend in occupational injuries in manufacturing and mining sectors. However, caution is needed when interpreting the statistics as unregistered factories and mines are not covered. During 2011-16, the number of cases of occupational diseases reported to the government in India was only 562. In contrast, a scientific article published in the National Medical Journal of India, 2016, indicates prevalence of occupational diseases such as silicosis and byssinosis.
Even in countries with the most well-established data collection systems, underreporting, particularly of non-fatal occupational accidents and especially work-related diseases, is common. It is critical that India establishes efficient Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) data collection systems to better understand the situation for effective interventions.
We often overlook the needs of those who are most vulnerable in the world of work. We must address the safety and health of workers active in the micro and small enterprises, those in the informal economy and in rural and agricultural sectors. Many of these workers are women. We have to strengthen our efforts to reach out to those vulnerable groups of workers.
Let’s create safe, healthy and productive workplaces.
India has been strengthening national OSH policy frameworks for providing adequate protection to workers. The government, in consultation with employers’ and workers’ representatives, adopted the National Policy on OSH in 2009. India is in the process of finalising its first national OSH profile.
A national action plan to promote OSH for all workers is now required. For effective enforcement, labour inspection systems need to be strengthened. Strong cooperation and information sharing among the authorities concerned with OSH should be promoted. OSH training and information activities for small enterprises and the unorganised sector needs to be enhanced. Training of medical doctors and health professionals on occupational disease diagnosis is necessary for early detection, treatment and compensation.
Public awareness for preventing work-related accidents and diseases and improving hazardous working environments should increase. India can undertake stronger national campaigns and awareness raising activities for workers and employers. The mass media and journalists could highlight the safety and health challenges of workers in various economic sectors and disseminate information on how to mitigate accidents and diseases.
At the workplace level, the first thing to do is to establish OSH committees and involve workers for identifying hazards and improving OSH. Workers are in the frontline to notice OSH risks and implement solutions. It has been well established that a safe and healthy workplace is a productive and dynamic one, leading to sustainable businesses.
The ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work report is calling for the recognition of safety and health as a fundamental principle and right at work. The world of work is undergoing profound changes. It is important for governments, employers and workers, and other stakeholders to seize the opportunities to create a safe and healthy future workplace for all. Their day-to-day efforts to improve safety and health at work can directly contribute to the sound socioeconomic development of India. India has a comparative advantage of having a large youth population as demographic dividend. Let’s include these youth in this endeavour. Young people are especially vulnerable to OSH risks and need to play an active role in finding OSH solutions.
Dagmar Walter is director, ILO Office for India and Decent Work Team for South Asia, New Delhi
The views expressed are personal