Occupational accidents – workers getting injured and even dying from “accidents” at the work place – are very high in India. Going by reported accidents, 3 workers die and close to 50 are injured every day! According to estimates, roughly 80,000 workers lose their lives every year in “accidents” at the workplace. Lakhs of workers suffer injuries, many of them disabled for life.
A cylinder blast in Yamunanagar’s industrial area led to 12 people being wounded on 16th September 2019. The blast occurred at Vimal Aluminium Private Limited’s factory. Eight out of the 12 injured are reported to be in critical condition.
At least 24 workers and residents of a building were confirmed dead in a massive explosion on 4th September 2019 at a firecracker factory at Batala in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab. Some people were trapped under the debris of the building that collapsed after the explosion. The tragedy occurred as the workers inside were grinding potassium to fill in the crackers ahead of Diwali.
Explosions in fire cracker factories across the country, in the months preceding Diwali, are almost routine. According to official statistics, an average of 25 workers die in accidents while manufacturing fireworks each year. Often, the victims are children who are employed in violation of legislation against employment of child labour.
In early August, as many as 74 people were hospitalised in Udupi district In Karnataka. They suffered breathlessness due to leakage of ammonia from one of the containers at a fish factory at Devalakunda village.
These are just some accidents that have been reported in the media.
Occupational accidents – workers getting injured and even dying from “accidents” at the work place – are very high in India. Going by reported accidents, 3 workers die and close to 50 are injured every day! According to estimates, roughly 80,000 workers lose their lives every year in “accidents” at the workplace. Lakhs of workers suffer injuries, many of them disabled for life. Explosions, fires engulfing factories and godowns, underground mines caving in trapping workers, mines getting flooded drowning the workers, blasts in furnaces, workers falling to death in construction sites, young lives being snuffed out while cleaning sewers are a daily occurrence in our country — some reported, the majority going unreported.
The reasons are very similar, across all these incidents. They occur because the capitalist system does not care at all for the well-being of those who toil. The general standard of working conditions in India is abysmal. Space is a big constraint and very cramped conditions prevail in most premises. There is an absence of ventilation and fire escapes are an exception. Protective equipment is also rarely provided by the management. There are lakhs of such units where the workers are forced to work in the most inhuman and unsafe conditions. These are not exceptions, but rather the rule.
The Occupation Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill was tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament. It is not a legislation that is going to bring about any change in the conditions of work across the country. It has replaced 13 other legislation dealing with safety, health and working conditions of workers into one overarching labour code. The legislation does not in any way ensure better working conditions or health or safety.
The same provisions that were present in the Factories Act earlier with respect to licensing of new units, inspection and prosecution are found in the new Bill. There is no change in the conditions under which a new unit can be set up, inspection of the unit and enforcing the safety conditions. On the contrary, whereas earlier the Inspectors could examine any premises without any prior notification, now the Inspectors/Facilitators have to inform the owner prior to inspection of the premises.
There are no mechanisms to ensure that health, safety and working conditions promised by the bill are actually going to be implemented. Workers are supposed to complain to the management if their working conditions are unsafe, and expect redressal! This completely ignores the reality that in this capitalist system, the worker is at the mercy of the capitalist, for his livelihood. A worker can afford to complain to the management about unsafe conditions, only at the risk of losing his or her job. Further, the Bill removes the role of trade unions in demanding and fighting for safe working conditions.
Take the case of construction sector, which accounts for the maximum share of occupational accidents and is most hazardous next only to mining. The existing BOCW Act under which various benefits are being provided to construction workers is to be repealed in bringing in the Code based on this Bill. The repealing of the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Act of 1996 will lead to the closure of all the 36 state BOCW Boards and cancellation of about four crore registrations of construction workers as beneficiaries.
One of the criticisms of the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill is that it is not universal, it leaves out all units which have less than 10 workers. With cancellation of registration of construction workers, lakhs of them will not be covered because the total number of workers will not cross the threshold for the application of the Act.
The working class has to unitedly struggle for the universal application and enforcement of safety regulations so that accidents at the workplace may be prevented.