According to International Labour Organisation (ILO), each day 1,000 people go out to work and do not return home because they die in a workplace accident, the equivalent of four plane crashes. Against this backdrop, safety and health at workplaces today assumes greater importance than ever. Here is an overview of this vital area of concern.
It is a fact that occupational accidents and diseases, and the economic costs they entail, play a significant role in the spread of poverty and have a negative impact on development. However, most of the world’s work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses are preventable. Co-ordinated action at the national-level and enterprise-level can certainly improve workplace safety and health, apart from directly benefiting business productivity, cost-saving and competitiveness.
Occupational safety and health (OSH) issues deserve more attention, be it as a specific theme or mainstreamed into other areas of focus, as it contributes to strengthening the national development processes. The challenge today is that more transition and developing countries engage in similar initiatives so that the human and economic costs of occupational accidents and diseases do not delay their development.
India has had legislation on occupational safety and health for 50 years, but regulatory authorities are limited to 1,400 safety officers and 1,154 factory inspectors. These numbers are grossly inadequate even for the inspection of formal units that only employ about 10% of India’s total workforce (around 26 million), let alone the millions who work in the informal sector with absolutely no safeguards.
The ILO estimates that 2.34 million people die around the world each year as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases. This comes to over 6,000 victims a day – about twice as many as in the World Trade Centre tragedy – each day of the year. Occupational accidents and diseases not only entail an appalling human toll but also account for a significant economic burden on national economies and on enterprises. It is estimated that about 4% of the global gross domestic product disappears through absences from work and sickness, disability and survivors’ benefits.
Accidents, despite being visible, are still grossly under-reported in the Indian context. The reporting of insidious occupational diseases, therefore, stands little chance. If we analyse the details of workers who die because of their work environment, we find that, surprisingly, most of them succumb to occupational cancers and other work-related illnesses. This is contrary to the common belief that most work-related deaths are caused by accidents. In most places, occupational safety and health invariably means prevention of accidents; very little attention is paid to occupational diseases. An accident-free workplace by no means implies a safe workplace.
(Read the full article in the February Issue of Safety Messenger Magazine 2016)