Prioritise safety to achieve zero harm

TODAY IS NATIONAL SAFETY DAY

Come March, the country observes national safety month to reiterate the importance of safety, to prevent and lessen the loss of human life and tackle financial losses to the family by availing them of safety, health and environment-related support services. The theme for 2017 National Safety Day/week is “Keep Each Other Safe”.

A large number of industries have been established in post-independence India in private, public and joint sectors. In 1948, it was decided to reserve the ri­ght of control with the state over coal, steel, aviation, petroleum industries, etc. Though all other industries were open to private enterprises, in 1956, a resolution was passed, under which private capital was allowed to enter into the reserved sectors of the ind­ustry. When the state enterprises and public sector undertakings ran into heavy losses, many of the government enterprises were handed over to private entrepreneurs and industrialists.

Collaborations with industrially-advanced countries like the US, the UK, Russia etc are a clear testimony of India’s industrial progress. However, with the growth of industries, the number of occupational injuries and deaths have increased, too.

Due to economic constraints, use of cheaper equipment and processes which do not meet minimum safety requirements,  use of obsolete technologies and toxic chemicals banned in the developed countries, use of unshielded dangerous machineries, non-transfer of skills and training required for operating and maintaining imported technologies etc, are the main causes of injuries and deaths in the Indian industries.

Health at work and a healthy work environment, are among the most valuable assets of individuals, communities and countries. The regulations and standards stipulating the minimum level of safety and health at work , play an important part in improving working conditions, since they apply to all workplaces and all employed persons.

While designing safety stand­ards, the special needs of vulner­able groups like women, handicapped workers or older workers should be considered. Establishing safety standards, regulations, and emergency care proc­edures depending on the technical advancement is also required.

The current state of Indian industry should provide incentive to the employers to invest in safety measures. To usher in a self-enforcing environment in industrial occupational health and safety, a high degree of planning, preparation and a strong will of workers, managements and trade unions are needed.

But health and safety will not come about by waving a magic wand, it requires workers to be equipped to change the way things are done at the workplace. Indian trade unions and workers’ associations unions should have awareness about safety aspects and should strive to develop education program­mes on occupational health safety and prevention measures.

Today, with stress being laid on quick profits, safety aspects are generally ignored. It is only with an increase in the number of people killed and injured at work, that the significance of the problem has been realised.

A shift in approach to the pro­blems of occupational health and safety have come about rec­ently. Instead of investigating accidents after they have occurred, taking a high toll of human life, it is now felt that preventing the occurrence of industrial disasters and occupational diseases is a much better idea.

So, to ensure a self-enforcing environment, where assurance of occupational health and safety is the norm rather than an afterthought, a positive, strong infrastructure has to be developed. This necessitates a reorientation not only in the minds of the employers and the government, but also in the attitudes of the employees and the general public.

All workplace risks, whether physical, chemical or biological in origin, should be properly managed. An integrated approach is to be adopted to have a healthy and hazard-free industrial environment.

The National Safety Day celebration should help in ascertaining the views of leading professionals and bureaucrats working in the field of industrial health and safety and also in identifying the various factors responsible for low standards of safety in India. Mere sloganeering and celebration will not improve safety at work place.

The enforcing authorities should realise that occupational health and safety is not limited in scope only to prevent and co­ntrol specific occupational diseases. Worker’s health and safety programmes should deal with the complete relationship between work and health of man.

(The writer is former deputy director of boilers, Government of Karnataka)

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