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India’s safety crisis: industrial accidents during Covid-19 kill at least 75

7 July, 2020Since May, there has been more than 30 industrial accidents in India, killing at least 75 workers, injuring over a hundred. These numbers are based on reported incidents and the real number may be far higher.

As India has returned back to work after the Covid-19 lockdown, there has been an industrial accident at least every two days killing and maiming workers, polluting the surroundings with long-term health and environmental implications.

The toxic gas leak at the LG Polymers plant in Andhra Pradesh on 7 May brought back memories of the Bhopal gas tragedy. The boiler explosion at Yashashvi Raasayan Private Limited at Dahej, Gujarat killed at least eight people and injured about 40. Boiler explosions at Neyveli Lignite Corporation’s thermal power plant in Tamil Nadu on 7 May, and again on 1 July, killed at least 20 workers.

The accidents have continued into July in chemical plants, coal mines, steel factories and boiler blasts in power stations. Widespread use of contract workers lack of safety inspections, inadequate penal action against safety violations and not fixing responsibility on the employer are some important factors contributing to the accidents.

The series of accidents expose a pattern of systemic failures; industries halted without proper shutdowns, processes with poor planning, failure to ensure adequate maintenance and inspection during lockdown leads to accidents while industrial processes are being restarted.

In a letter to the Prime Minister of India, IndustriALL underlined that this kind of mistake falls within the category of Process Safety Management failures and warned the government of India to immediately address this systemic breakdown in safety controls to avert any further potential catastrophes on the scale of the 1984 Bhopal disaster.

At a press conference today, Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary said:

“We are gravely concerned over the incessant occurrence of avoidable fatal accidents. It is nothing but industrial homicide and the government of India should immediately sound a national alarm to impose proper safety measures and protocols to prevent accidents.

“International norms and standards, particularly workers’ rights, play a central role in improving safety. The government must engage with the unions, listen to their demands, and implement and monitor safety measures in a collective way. IndustriALL is ready to work with all stakeholders and provide technical support to improve safety. The world and India cannot have another Bhopal.”

Also speaking to the press, Dr G Sanjeeva Reddy, President of INTUC and IndustriALL affiliate Indian National Metalworkers Federation, said:

“The government of India should form an expert commission to analyze the industrial accidents, immediately address this safety crisis and stop potential accidents. The government should involve unions in the decision making process both at the national level and at the factory levels to avoid accidents in the future.”