A serious workplace injury or death changes lives forever – for families, friends, communities, and coworkers too. Workplace health and safety is an important and worthwhile investment.
Industrial safety standards appear to be falling in the country, much like the recently reported instant death of contracted labour on November 25, 2017, at one of the several ongoing Mumbai Metro rail projects at Goregaon. The 21-year-old contract worker Hari Om Yadav was severely injured while preparing for a ‘Pier Cap Erection’ after the crane’s rigger, that he was operating, malfunctioned.
Yadav proceeded to physically check the problem and while he was doing so his own uncle, who was manning the crane pressed the start button which set the crane in motion. The crane’s rigger hit Yadav’s head and he subsequently succumbed to his injuries. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s (MMRDA’s) additional Metropolitan Commissioner issued notices to Simplex Infrastructure Ltd, the contractor who would be held accountable for the loss of human life. MMRDA officials said that around Rs 9 lakh would have to be paid to the family of the deceased worker by the contractor.
Mumbai city’s infrastructure development agency also directed the contractors to re-train all crane operators, a fact that indicates that standard operating procedures (SOPs) were not followed, thereby leading to the mishap and human fatality.
Similar instances of fatalities were reported in Mumbai even when the first Metro rail corridor (between Andheri and Ghatkopar) was being constructed in July 2011, when another worker slipped and fell off a beam he was standing upon at a height of over 50 feet. Only six days before that incident, two laborers working at the Mono-rail project also died in a construction site mishap at Chembur in eastern Mumbai. None of the three workers had donned the mandatory safety (harness) belts that would have significantly reduced the number of fatalities, probably resulting in zero deaths instead of three fatalities in the two incidents.
Same was the case at the Andheri Metro site in September 2012 when another worker was killed and 11 others injured after a slab of the under construction bridge of the Metro Rail collapsed at the arterial Andheri-Kurla road within walking distance of the international airport facility in the city.
Many such cases were also reported from across the country, be it in Chennai where on April 27, 2017 two metro water contact labourers died while separating the sewage lines from the drinking water pipelines in the Oori Salai area in April 2017.
In December 2015, a 24-year-old electrician, Anand Kumar, working at the Namma Metro’s underground station at Majestic in Bengaluru slipped and plunged 25 feet to his death. The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd spokesperson said that Kumar was employed by Tiwary Electrical, sub-contractors to Blue Star Ltd and was conducting a survey and walking in the Environmental Control System plant room at the ‘concourse level’ when he slipped and fell down on the platform.
Is ensuring ‘zero human fatality’ while indulging in rampant industrial and infrastructural development in India, a distant dream even today, when we are set to introduce the Bullet Trains technology and thousands of kilometers of road and high speed rail networking across India?
Not so, says Maharashtra’s principal secretary for (labour) Ramesh Kumar who spoke to this journal regarding the correspondingly bad situation on account of industrial safety practiced by the 36,000 registered factories in the State (those employing over 20 workers), “We have our own machinery, including inspectors who visit individual units where accidents are reported. Zero fatality is indeed our stated objective and we are working towards it.”
However, the figures of fatalities reported from these 36,000 odd registered factories suggests that a ‘zero fatality’ rate is still a long way away from accomplishment. In 2015, 145 worker deaths were reported in the State, while in 2016 this stood at 150 fatalities in industrial accidents.
In 2017, so far, 120 workers have died in mishaps reported from these registered factories. “There is the problem of many unregistered and illegal factories as well. Then there is a separate department under the Directorate of Boilers. The recent boiler room explosion reported in Uttar Pradesh at the NTPC-Unchahar facility is under probe and Dhawal Prakash Antapurkar (who holds charge as Maharashtra’s Director of Steam Boilers, Mumbai, has been co-opted onto the committee that is conducting a probe into the causes of the industrial accident reported recently in UP, where close to 29 human personnel lost their lives. His expertise will certainly help the probe and most probably also provide us with valuable learning to ensure better industrial safety in Maharashtra as well.”
Sudhakar Prabhu Rathod, a mechanical engineer, is currently the Director at the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (Maharashtra). He says, “While 36,000 registered factories operate in the State, Mumbai would account for around 4,000 of these facilities, where more than 20 workmen are employed. Units with fewer than 20 employees, are covered under the Shops and Establishment Act and regulated by local self bodies (read municipal corporation and regional town planning authorities).”
However, he points out that his directorate is heavily understaffed. “My team of inspectors and officers visit the factories and conduct inquiries after mishaps are reported. Where violations of prescribed industrial safety standards are found to have taken place, we take action as per the rules. However, nearly 60 per cent of the posts of inspectors lie vacant in our directorate. Guidelines on industrial safety are in place and zero fatalities is an achievable target, as the compliance by factories where mishaps are reported is almost within prescribed standards.”
However, his senior colleague in the State Secretariat, Rajesh Kumar is drawing out crystal clear plans to achieve target ‘zero’ in as far as fatalities are concerned. Says he, “We have already recommended (to Rathod) the setting up of a committee that will visit factories and submit a policy/guidelines paper for implementation. While there are existing criteria on industrial safety, the same needs to be enhanced. There has to be strong emphasis on training and creating awareness among the stakeholders involved in carrying out developmental work in a much more safe manner to bring down fatalities to zero.”
He adds that Gujarat has a better track record on reducing fatalities, but stops short of providing hard data on the subject. “This is what I have been hearing for some time, about the policy and protocols being followed in Gujarat being of higher quality and closer to the objective of ‘zero fatalities’. Similarly, we are emphasising on new age technology to ensure better safety standards are employed. Better technology would surely ensure more healthy practices in the infrastructure as well as manufacturing facilities based out of Maharashtra. The distinction between hazardous (like steam boilers) or accident prone manufacturing processes and non-hazardous facilities and the commensurate emphasis required in distinct measures for both is required.” He adds that once the policy paper for industrial safety (expected to be ready in another six months time) is ready, strong efforts would be made through workshops and awareness campaigns to ensure that the accent on safety becomes a habit in the entire state of Maharashtra, in turn ensuring it moves closest to the ‘zero fatality’ status.
“Already many illegal factories have started registering themselves and coming on-board the formal segment of the business industry. Improvements in safety standards, guidelines, protocols and regulation are soon to follow.”
- Renni Abraham