The meeting at MFC has been quite rewarding for my research interest in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in India. The conversations at the meeting yielded a laundry list of issues that affect a functioning and effective OHS system in the country. It starts with an instance of an industrial chemical polyacrylate which is categorized as a mild to moderate toxin. 5 workers reports an NGO from Vadodara, Gujarat, have died in the state due to polyacrylate exposure. Other instance cited was of nasal septum perforation from chromium exposure in Vadodara.
The range of issues in OHS are:
- Data on deaths, injuries, disability and ODs.
- Workplace environment monitoring, its data (dose- effect replationship)
- Laws and their enforcement, use of legal provisions
- Right to refuse – workers have a right to refuse work if they think that conditions are not safe. It doesn’t apply that way in India
- Investigations and their reports
- Information on hazards- to the workers
- Information on OHS situation to the society
- Unionization and TU situation – politics and priorities
- Priorities for workers and other stake holders
- Medical education, diagnosis, treatment. OHS education in other faculties – law, engineering, social work, sociology, medicine. For instance- doctors know so little about OHS. In case of IITs – how many of them include OHS in their curriculum?
- Disability assessment and rights of disabled. Workers disabled because of OH are not included by disability law. Case- a disable person was assessed by ESI medical panel. Disability assessed as 20%. Within 2 months the person dies. When an RTI was raised by an NGO to know what standard was applied to assess the disability. The medical team replied that there was no standard.
- Research on different aspects of OHS= medical, social, legal.
- Use of PPE, availability, quality standardization and other issues.
- Technology – age old techniques like dye manufacturing being done in open pans
- Vulnerability of specific social groups like dalits, migrant workers etc.
- Lack of BOHS (basic OHS) and lack of social security to majority – ESI & ESIC. Many places not covered by ESI and employers do not want ESI
- Universalisation of BOHS/Integration of OHS with general health services
- Role of central and state govts, national and international agencies, NGOs, TUs.
- Campaigns, movements, networking
- OHS literature
- Myths and misconceptions
- Relief and rehabilitation
- Return to work – ‘light duty’
- New technology and materials (no information on status of these in India)
- Occupational cancers, NIHL, Pneumoconiosis
On data – central government has no control over the state governments. And this affects data availability.
Work environment monitoring – vague and poorly implemented. Law does not mandate industrial hygienist. South Africa had a mandated a ‘dust monitor’ 100yrs back.
Madhya Pradesh – deaths due to silicosis among migrant workers were always reported as due to TB by the doctors. TB vs Silicosis sort of a movement began. 2005-06 424 persons were affected due to silicosis. In 2011, 1701 persons affected with silicosis in 3 districts in MP. This was a small study. A petition has been filed to knw the status of silicosis. NHRC has released a report on silicosis. MP govt has constituted a silicosis board to address the issue and also track migrant workers.
Rajasthan – mining is a huge revenue source to the state. Labourers are generally employed through agents. The mines are let out on lease to the owners. Now to the labourers Rajasthan govt is paying out of its own pocket. The govt is not able to make the mining lobby to address the situation. Workers do not know who they are working for. It is also difficult to determine who owns the mine. 21 victims have been compensated with Rs 3 lakhs. Now the state govt is concerned that it is spending its relief fund money.
Comment – appeal to look at the causes below the symptoms. Large scale denial of disease is for a reason. So understand the political economy of OH. There is a paradigm shift in the entire world of work in the last 2-3 decades. Whenever capital engages in surplus extraction there are two barriers- it has to give job secturty. Second, wages to labour. Regan and Thatcher bring in neoliberal capitalism and a paradigm shift in surplus extaction. Mid 1990s production is reorganized. It orients towards maximization. In that situation employer-employee relationship is fragmented so that it is no more required to take care of the worker. Labour extraction becomes absolute.
Construction, Mining and Factories sector have a schedule of diseases. A person/doctor who comes across a patient suffering from any of the listed diseases can report to the Factories Inspector. (Ref: Book “They go to die” on mining in South Africa).
Comment – Medical profession is getting away too easily. It can’t diagnose silicosis. “we can’t wait for a well wisher funded by Bill Gates to do find a diagnosis. May be he can help if he finds a vaccine for it.”