Safety and Sustainability
Safety and Sustainability

Safety and Sustainability

The Indian Cement Industry is an enigma, in some respects. On the one hand, the industry plays an absolutely essential role in construction and nation-building, and has a strong record of community outreach, particularly in education and healthcare support. On the other hand, somewhat inexplicably, the society and the people at large, harbour a not-so-positive perception about the industry. Over the years, I have understood that this chasm between reality and perception could be avoided if the industry had a more robust public communication strategy. Cement industry does operate on the regulatory frontiers of mining, environment, factories, competition and consumers laws, and if we look at the facts and the data, the industry has measured up admirably well on compliances in all these sensitive matters. There is a need to appropriately showcase this performance for the benefit of the people and the opinion-makers in the country, so that industry as a whole gets the admiration it deserves.

But, when it comes to industrial safety, there is actually (and not just perceptually) room for improvement. Incidents of industrial accidents, and even fatalities of employees, do happen in the cement industry from time to time, during construction or during operations of plants. Granted that cement factories are complicated animals, involve challenging heights, and in some places, the owners/managers have made them far more complicated by making changes to original designs, and all this eventually makes these plants relatively more hazardous. However, the answer to all this is deployment of stronger safety systems, driven top down by plant leadership. The formal level of education of our blue-collar workers being low, general awareness about what is safe and what is unsafe is quite low. It also does not help that our course curriculum in vocational trades lacks focus on safety. In recent times, some positive trends have been noticed in the reported safety statistics. More importantly, the transparency with which disclosures are made has also improved. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that the journey of industrial safety is a long and arduous one for the cement industry in India, which has to be undertaken with full and due diligence, without short-cuts. If we can do this, over time, people´s opinion about the industry will also change for the better.

Reputation of an industry and its long term sustenance are connected. What are the hallmarks of a sustainable business? In the context of what society expects today, it is not enough to have a healthy ´triple bottom line´ of financial, environmental and societal performances. To be sustainable, an entity has to be also fair in business practices, empathetic to human rights, support and prefer like-minded vendors, and have equitable employee policies - which means it has to provide a safe and hygienic workplace, to start with. And all this cannot even start without safety. These parameters of sustainability are well embodied in the Global Reporting framework for reporting on sustainable development, and it is a matter of some satisfaction for the cement sector that quite a few progressive cement players in India have started reporting under this framework, with third party auditing.

So, we have decided to take up the topic of safety in cement businesses in this issue. I particularly use the word ´business´ here because I want to drive home the point that unsafe practices are prone to happen even outside the factory premises, in transportation and warehousing. There have been instances of unfortunate fatalities in unlikely places like godowns, and in unexpected auxiliary operations such as wagon loading or ready-mix concrete. These cases underline the importance of observing safe working practices throughout the cement value chain, and not just in the factories.

We welcome your feedback on this, or any other topic that you find to be of interest in this issue.

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