ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Occupational Health and Safety in India

The Need for Reform

In light of the focus on the manufacturing sector it is important to scrutinise the existing occupational health and safety provisions in Indian law and their implementation. This article argues that the current disregard for workers' health and safety could prove costly in the long run, and any growth in manufacturing must entail a clear practicable system to ensure occupational health and safety for workers.

While much of the growth in the Indian economy over the last few decades has been in the outsourcing of back-office operations from western companies, experts believe that manufacturing is the next growth sector. Just as one example, India is the world’s largest small-car market. Chennai is the small-car hub for the region for several automobile companies and from here it exports cars, engines and components across the world. Suzuki, BMW, Hyundai and others similarly produce hundreds of thousands of cars and motorcycles in Chennai. Similar trends are foreseen in the pharmaceutical, other consumer and capital goods manufacturing sectors in the medium to long term. This rapid industrial growth is in conjunction with a population shift from rural to urban areas that has severely strained urban infrastructure. The rise of India as a manufacturing hub with a significant increase in industrial employment will have implications for occupational health that have not been considered with any degree of seriousness.

In this commentary, we examine some aspects of the existing infrastructure for occupational health and safety (OHS) in India – the adequacy of existing legal provisions, its coverage of the Indian workforce, its implementation, and the availability of trained personnel. We posit that the existing infrastructure does not meet the needs of an economy with the projected rates of growth, especially in the manufacturing, chemical, pharmaceutical, and commercial goods sectors. We propose that the system undergo substantial change with significant labour law reforms, improved implementation of laws, investments in developing capacity, including trained personnel in a variety of relevant disciplines, and development of a culture of OHS consciousness among owners, employers, labour unions, workers and enforcement agencies.

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