Occupational Safety and Health – The Indian Context


Occupational Safety Health

Occupational Safety Health

According to Section 38(e & f) of Indian constitution, Occupational Safety and Health is a right of employee and Government of India is directed to design its policies in such a way that “that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to their age or strength”.

Similarly Section 42 directs the states governments also to “make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief”.

Despite their being laws and rules in place in India, there is a large majority of workers who are facing serious occupational health problems and medical care resulting in high mortality rates, accidents, communicable and non-communicable diseases, malnutrition, poor environment and much more. Globalization and rapid industrial growth (about 8% annual economic growth) in the past few years have further intensified the problems and complexities of occupational health related issues.

Like any other country in the world where industries face serious occupational health and safety challenges, a scenario in India is also the same. The level of awareness about ergonomics, good work environment and good postures in the industries, especially in SSIs (Small Scale Industry) and unorganized sector is very low. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are always there with the manual activities carried out in SSIs where a large number of workers are always working in awkward postures. MSDs are very common health problems across the world and are also one of the major causes of workplace disability. It is due to the exposure to high or low intensity repeated loads over a long period of time and it commonly affected low back, neck, shoulder, forearm and hand.

SSI (Small Scale Industry) contributes about 40% of the gross industrial value added in the Indian economy. It is also expected that SSI’s contribution to Indian GDP is going to touch double digits by 2020. With low investment and high labor absorption in industries like auto and machine parts for Indian and Foreign market, handloom, food, garments, etc which contributes to 43% of India’s export, the emphasis on importance of occupational health is low.

The current burden of accumulated occupational diseases in India is estimated to be more than 18 million cases. According to data from the National Family Health Surveys – Respiratory infections and other respiratory diseases are the 3rd and 7th highest causes of disease burden in terms of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) accounting for about 15% of the total disease burden in India. Acute lower respiratory tract infections (Ac LRTIs), tuberculosis (TB) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are the three most important respiratory diseases. They contribute to 8.6%, 3.0% and 1.9% of the total disease-burden in India, respectively.

Impact of Occupational Safety and Health on Organization and Employees

Work related MSDs, low back pain and other health problems result in increasedImpact of Occupational Health absenteeism and lost working time, adverse effects on labour relations, higher insurance and compensation costs, increased probability of accidents and errors, job transfer and higher turnover of workers, more scrap and decreased production, low-quality work and high administrative and personnel costs which ultimately reduces productivity and increases cost to company.

For industries which wish to have a competitive edge in present scenario, it is compulsory for them to put emphasis on occupational health where they can not only cater to the current health needs of the employees but can also track the long term impacts of work related health hazards. The organization then can work proactively to develop health interventions which will create a better quality of life for workers and reduces the financial losses and medical costs to companies and the economy. The use of technology can greatly help organizations to keep a track and predict the health of the employee more efficiently and on a real time basis   

Employee’s health is valuable as a cost reduction, quality improvement, performance improvement and productivity-enhancing process. There are various case studies done where the focus on occupational health especially ergonomic has resulted in tangible benefit for the organization. In a case study, 23% increment in operator’s productivity and 19% reduction in injuries were reported as a result of improved workplace illumination in a circuit board manufacturing company. In another case study in flashlight and lantern plant operation achieved a significant reduction in the reject rate and almost a 50 percent increase in output after ergonomic interventions.

Challenges in implementing good practises

In India, there is no comprehensive legislation for occupational health and safety, covering all the workers in all economic sectors. The major legal provisions for the protection of health and safety of the working populations are the ‘Factories Act’ and ‘Mines Act’. The Factories Act, 1948, deals with occupational health and safety, as well as the welfare of workers employed in a factory. The act was amended in 1987 to include a special chapter on hazardous industry after Bhopal Gas Tragedy and it made pre-employment and periodic medical examinations and periodic monitoring of the work environment is mandatory for the industries listed in Schedule I of the Act. 1. There are similar provisions under the Mines Act.

For its budget, occupational health in India has still to compete with primary & curative health care services and is not integrated with primary health care. While 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) is spent on health care, almost 75% of this is spent on curative health care services. Invariably, a negligible amount is spent on occupational health care. The Director General, Factory Advice Service & Labour Institute (DGFASLI) reveals that the number of Safety Officers, Inspectors and special inspectors, certified surgeons is grossly inadequate for a country with a humungous workers’ population.

One Size Fit All

In the current occupational health setup, an organization is conducting the same set of health check-up for all its employees which are not a very cost effective practice. A person’s current health risks depend on various parameters which include his current lifestyle, his parental history, and his social and occupational life. Based on these parameters he/she should be prescribed to undergo a certain set of health check-ups. Organizations can use technology to effectively map the health checkup requirement of each employee which can result in considerable cost saving. This will also result in more meaningful clinical reports and can help OHC to provide better consultation.

Workplace Health and Safety

There are also a very limited set of employers who are measuring or are capable of measuring the impact of any wellness activities that they conduct. This is directly related to the absence or limited adoption of technology into this department. Most of the work in the occupational health center is currently executed either manual or through emails which give a very little room to the usage of tool and automation to measure the ROI of their initiatives effectively.   

Implementation of Law

Fig Inter-sectoral linkages in Occupational Health Industry in India

In India, different organizations are involved in occupational health and safety and there is no single authority to coordinate between various implementing agencies established and under various laws at the State and Central government level. The issue of multiple agencies has been discussed since long and there are several recommendations to bring all of them under one agency. That has not taken place despite legal reforms in several other sectors.

Data Issue and Transparency

DGFASLI states on their site “The DGFASLI receives information relating to factories covered under the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 from States and Union Territories from time to time”. This information is mainly collected through FAS Forms as well as through correspondence as and when required. It is entered in the data bank specially created at DGFASLI for disseminating any specific information as and when necessary. However, due to non-receipt of statistics from all the States and Union Territories, there are limitations to the use of this data bank. Though this information can be used for knowing the state-wise status of safety and health as well as compliance level with statutory standards in factories, no national level statistics can be prepared for arriving at conclusive inferences.

As per the Labour Bureau, Only 22.57% of registered factories are providing information to the Government Departments and there is hardly any punitive action taken for noncompliance.

The data is lacking even in the formal sector and there is no mechanism for collection and maintenance.

As highlighted earlier also, one of the main reasons of low availability of data is the nature in which the occupational health department are interacting with employees and are executing their functions. Currently, most of the activities are done either through the mail or manually with the minimal use of technology. The absence of tool for clinical report digitization, health data repository, trend analysis, health prediction and automation results in limited, incoherent and non-transparent data.  

AllizHealth Solution

Occupational health has become more of an annual health check-up and then giving a fitness certificate to an employee rather than assessing the risk of a person and helping them manage their health better. A healthy worker is found nearly three times more productive than a worker in poor health.

AllizHealth has come up with OCCUHEALTH, the occupational health solution which not only automates and streamlines the complete occupational health process but also provides options to connect with primary health care system. This solution digitizes all health records and helps bring transparency in the system which can help different stakeholders like Doctor, Organization, and Government body to take an informed decision. On the other side, it also engages with the employees by sharing specific content and information and provides various services and options to manage their health better. For more information about Occupational Health and OCCUHEALTH, please get in touch with Abhishek Verma at abhishek.verma@allizhealth.com

Important Links –
Importance of Power Naps at Office Hours …
Tips to Protect your back in Office …
World Mental Health Day – Issues at Workplace
Stress – A challenge of the Times We Live In
Indian healthcare – a shift from curative care to preventive care
AllizHealth – Corporate Wellness Portal
General Diet Plan


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