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No progress made in Indian health and safety crisis

10 March, 2021Incessant industrial accidents in India show that no progress has been made in improving occupational health and safety. A compilation of accidents reported in the press since India’s lockdown ended in May 2020 shows that the shockingly high accident rate in India’s factories, chemical plants and mines continues.

The intensifying safety crisis in India is made apparent by the fact that 14 accidents reported in the press in 2021 have already claimed the lives of 42 workers, with about 100 injured. These accidents happened in chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, steel companies and in mines.

In an accident at SIAL Ghogri coal mines, owned by Reliance cement, in Chindwara district of Madhya Pradesh, on 4 March, a contract worker, Rakesh Nikote, 27, died instantly while another worker was seriously injured. The accident happened when the mine roof collapsed while workers were drilling for the roof support. On the same day at Dipika mines in South Eastern Coalfields Limited, cable man Gajpal Singh was killed when a stone from the shovel machine fell on his head.

Avoidable accidents were also reported in the automotive sector. Umesh Ramesh Dhake, a welder of the Automotive Stampings and Assemblies Ltd at Chakan unit, sustained fatal injuries to his head and neck when a robotic unit fell on him due to a possible sensor glitch on 24 February

Three workers were killed, with four missing and 26 injured, when a massive explosion occurred in the early morning on 23 February at the United Phosphorus Ltd plant at the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation’s Jhagadia Industrial estate. Preliminary information suggests that that an electric short circuit may have caused a solvent fire. The accident caused massive pollution and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board ordered the factory to shut down.

In an accident at a fireworks factory on 12 February in the Virudhunagar district in Tamil Nadu, the death toll has now increased to 21 workers.

In an accident at the Gris ceramic tile factory in Rangpar village near Morbi town on 11 February, one of the 12 silos holding 60 to 70 tonnes of clay raw material collapsed. Two of the three workers trapped under the debris were found dead.

From May to December 2020, a compilation of accidents reported in the media in the manufacturing sectors shows that over 118 workers were killed and 682 were injured in about 64 accidents. 55 workers were killed in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry and 43 workers lost their lives in the mining sector - 18 of them coal miners.

According to official statistics, between 2014-2018, 5,800 workers suffered fatal injuries in registered factory accidents. On average at least 1,160 workers were killed in industrial accidents every year. These figures are believed to underestimate the actual death toll. Official numbers for 2019 and 2020 are not yet available, which shows that India needs better reporting and more transparency around accident data.

The states where a large number of fatal injuries occurred during this period are:

  • Gujarat – 1,179
  • Maharashtra - 761
  • Tamilnadu - 451
  • Chattisgarh – 431
  • Andhrapradesh - 341
  • Karnataka - 347
  • Telangana - 304

SQ Zama, secretary general of Indian National Mine Workers’ Federation, said:

“We are seriously concerned over increasing fatal accidents across the country and in mining sector. Unplanned mining activity, pervasive deployment of contract workers without safety training in mining operations, negligence of safety rules and shortages of safety equipment continue to claim workers’ lives. We need to take conscious efforts to stop accidents and the government need to send a strong message and take immediate measures to improve safety.”

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said

“In June 2020, IndustriALL Global Union warned the government of India to take swift measures to prevent another Bhopal  tragedy.

“It is appalling to see that no significant efforts have been taken by the government of India to address the safety crisis. We reiterate that the government should immediately call for a review of safety regulations. The principles of process safety management need to be integrated into the legislative and regulative framework. Public consultation, involvement of safety experts and unions and full transparency are required to improve safety and prevent accidents and we need to do this immediately”.