World Day for Safety and Health at Work

“Ensuring occupational safety and health in the unorganized sector is the biggest challenge for a country like India”

On world day for safety and health at work, the ILO talks to Avneesh Singh — Director General of DGFASLI (Directorate General of Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes). Dr Singh says that safe and healthy work environment is a fundamental human right and that India is taking definitive steps to ensure that every worker is protected and cared for.

News | 27 April 2018
Mr Avneesh Singh, Director General, DGFASLI
1. In 2017, DGFASLI conducted a comprehensive national OSH review. The findings were are now seen as a draft national OSH profile. Tell us your experience of formulating a draft national OSH profile for India?

DGFASLI is the technical arm of the Ministry of Labour and Employment in India.

In 2017, the task of developing a comprehensive National OSH profile was jointly taken up by DGFASLI in cooperation with the ILO. This OSH profile serves as a diagnostic document containing detailed analysis of existing national OSH systems and situations. The document helps in identifying priority areas for national action in OSH and helps formulate India’s national OSH programme.

Our teams from five regional institutes in Faridabad, Kolkata, Kanpur, Mumbai, and Chennai collected OSH information and prepared the first draft of the OSH profile documents. The documents were then reviewed in regional tripartite consultation workshops. Representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations actively contributed to the review discussions. A final national OSH profile draft was prepared and published on the DGFASLI website to solicit comments from the public. A national tripartite validation workshop was also organized to discuss this draft.

The OSH profiling work is also a preparatory exercise that we hope will result in India’s ratification of the ILO Convention No. 187 — Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006. The convention looks at promoting a preventive safety and health culture in a working environment. With this regard, the development of National OSH Profile is an important step.

2. What kind of OSH challenges does India face? What is the government doing about it?

Ensuring occupational safety and health in the unorganized sector is the biggest challenge for a country like India. There is an urgent need to cover sectors like agriculture, construction, small businesses, other ports (excluding major ports) and the service industry. These sectors generate employment for a large number of people all over the country. In order to protect the safety and health of the workers, sector-specific programmes need to be developed at the national level. The labour ministry is in the process of codifying the existing central labour laws into four labour codes, and one among these will be on safety, health and working conditions.

3. Tell us about a few activities of the DGFASLI that is aimed at protecting workers from occupational accidents and diseases?

The DGFASLI has a team of professionals from various disciplines that work towards improving OSH in factories, docks and ports. We coordinate administration of Factories Act, 1948 and Rules; to enforce Dock Workers’ (Safety, Health & Welfare) Act, 1986 and Regulations 1990. We also serve as the central repository of knowledge on OSH practices and we organize trainings on OSH to create awareness on critical safety and health issues. We also formulate standards and guidelines to sensitize workers and employers on OSH. We also carry out research -- specifically identifying the needs of countries from the Asia-Pacific on OSH and then aid in designing suitable interventions. As a knowledge leader on OSH, we frequently collaborate with national and international institutes and agencies to further strengthen our technical expertise.

In the recent past, we have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) to share OSH best practices. With Employees' State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), we work on the health profiles of workers. We design interventions that bolster the capacities of health professionals to adequately deal with health issues of workers. We are working with the Indian Association of Occupational Health (IAOH) on extending the occupational health services to the unorganized sector.

With the ILO, we have conducted many workshops, and seminars to bring about large scale awareness on OSH. In 2015, a national tripartite workshop was organized where experts from the South Asian countries shared their experiences on OSH. ILO’s strong technical expertise in this area and our technical knowledge combined helped us implement trainings to OSH professionals in Nepal and the Maldives.

The ‘international vision zero’ conference was organized by DGFASLI and DGUV, in partnership with the International Social Security Association (ISSA). It focused on OSH issues and challenges, and provided a much-needed forum to exchange knowledge, safe practices and experiences among the industrially-developing and developed countries.

This year we also completed a comprehensive silicosis survey that will help us develop a national programme on its prevention.

4. This year the world day for safety and health at work focuses on ‘improving the safety and health of young workers’. What steps is India taking in this regard?

The government of India firmly believes that without safe and healthy working environments social justice and economic growth cannot be achieved. Safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental human right.

For young workers in India, there are specific provisions in the Factories Act 1948. There is a prohibition on employment of children. The act asks for certification of fitness for adolescents and it stipulates working hours. Medical examination too is needed for pre- employment while periodic medical tests are strongly encouraged.

Also, ‘The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016’, prohibits the engagement of children in all occupations. Additionally, it also prohibits the engagement of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes.

5. Tell us how your organization is working with the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) in addressing OSH?

We use the ILO’s ‘Work Improvements in Small Enterprises’ (WISE) approach to address OSH issues in the MSME sector. WISE recommends promoting active participation of workers and employers by focusing on simple, low-cost solutions in OSH. The WISE approach has shown us excellent results in combating accidents in such enterprises and also boosting workers’ productivity.

Regional labour institutes -- under the aegis of DGFASLI – are strengthening their training activities in the MSME sector. They all use the WISE approach. More so, these institutes render need-based OSH services to the MSME sector.