Independent India’s first legislation directly concerned with the health, safety and working conditions of workers was the factories act, 1948. One can see that sections of this act are inspired by the Factory acts of Great Britain. Virtually identical definitions are used to differentiate between and define adults, adolescents, children, and factories.
This act required the employers to ensure cleanliness of the workplace, effective waste disposal, prevent overcrowding, ensure suitable ventilation, provide suitable clean drinking water to workers, and maintain suitable temperatures in the working place. It also required the employers to safeguard the machinery used, install emergency devices to cut off power and provide protective equipment to the workers. The owner of the factory must disclose the dangers in the factory, and health policy.
The next act concerning health and safety was the Plantation Labor Act for plantation workers which regulated which gave the maximum working hours for people in plantations with facilities for food, water, recreation, accommodation, and education. The Mines act of 1952 focused on people working in mining operations. It specified the minimum age for working in a mine to be 18 years, mandated a day of rest every week, and a provision of clean water for the workers.
Another area where Health and safety provisions were of great importance was nuclear energy. There was a ‘The Indian Atomic Energy Act’ of 1948 but it was more concerned with nuclear science and research and development in those fields rather than safety. ‘The Indian Atomic Energy Act’ placed a higher emphasis on safety precautions. Due to the volatile and dangerous nature of radiation, the precautions here were more stringent than before and focused on the materials themselves rather than the workers involved. Specific ‘prohibited areas’ were designated for the development of atomic energy and for waste disposal. Minerals like ‘Uranium’ can only be disposed of with the permission of the Central Government. The Central government was given the power and duty to maintain safety during transport of any radioactive material.
1971 saw the creation of specific rules for the handling of radioactive material and safety regulations concerning workers. People below the age of 18 are not allowed to be employed as radiation workers. Proper equipment, facilities and adequate protection are needed to be eligible for a license which also specifies the purpose and quantities of radioactive material allowed. The employers were directed to designate officers who would check operational limits, safe movement, safe disposal, and leakage tests. Due to the deadly nature of radiation, pre and periodic medical examinations of the workers have been specified.
Many factories or industries utilize heavy machinery for production or transport and some of them can cause grievous injuries or death. The ‘The Dangerous Machines (Regulations) Act, 1983’ sought to manage the sale and usage of machines termed as ‘dangerous machines. Any machine that can cause an accident to its operator is termed as a dangerous machine and this can include anything from a sugarcane crusher, chaff cutter or a power thresher. The holder of the dangerous machine must acquire a license which is valid for a period of five years. The manufacturers of dangerous machines are to make sure that the machine is laid down according to the standards issued by the Indian Standards Institution. The machine should have the direction and numbers of rotations per minute listed along with the power requirements, details of the manufacturer. The manufacturer must also include a safety manual, with the machine, which details safety guidelines and cautions to be followed. The users of the machine must get it registered. No one under the age of 18 is allowed to handle such machines and there should be adequate arrangements for First Aid nearby.
A lot of health and safety laws like the Factories Act, The Plantations Labor Act and The Mines Act were amalgamated into another in 2020. The Social Security Code, the Code on Industrial Relations, and the Code on Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions were all unified into three codes by the Indian Parliament last year (2020). In addition, four key labor laws were merged in the Code on Wages, which was enacted in 2019. According to the Factories Act of 1948, an establishment’s occupier is responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of all workers while they are on the job. The Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code (OSH) is a law that is now being considered by the Indian Parliament for enactment.13 labor regulations relating to health, safety, and working conditions are repealed and replaced with the proposed OSH Code. It is important to clarify that the OSH rule does not apply to self-employed individuals who operate from their homes.
Every employer must guarantee that the workplace is free of dangers that cause or are likely to cause damage or occupational disease to employees, according to the draught Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code, 2019. The OSH Code (2019) includes specific rules for mine, dock, and plantation owners and agents, as well as expanding the restrictions to include architects, designers, and project engineers.
It is the responsibility of the employer/occupier to ensure the provision and maintenance of safe and healthy work equipment and systems. Risks associated with the use, handling, storage, and transportation of products and substances should be addressed. Every employer is required to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health standards established under this Code, as well as the regulations, rules, bye-laws, and orders established thereunder, according to the draught OSH Code (2019).Furthermore, every employer must provide and maintain, to the extent reasonably practicable, a safe and healthy working environment for employees, and the regulation extends to designers, importers, and suppliers of equipment in establishments, who must take reasonable steps to ensure the worker’s safety.
The quality of the premises, cleanliness, waste and effluent disposal, ventilation and temperature, dust and fume, artificial humidification, overcrowding, lighting, clean drinking water, latrines and urinals, and spittoons should all be checked. Separate latrines and urinals for male, female, and transgender personnel should be provided at all workplaces, according to the draught Code. There should also be plans in place to prevent overcrowding.
The worker’s safety must be ensured by properly installing and maintaining the machinery, mechanisms, transmission apparatus, tools, equipment, and machines. Tools, equipment, machines, and products must be appropriately organized to ensure worker safety. The employer is responsible for ensuring the worker’s health and safety by providing rescue, first-aid, and cleanup equipment, as well as workplace arrangements and organization. Furthermore, the employer must ensure that no charges are imposed on any employee for anything done or provided for the preservation of workplace safety and health, including the conduct of medical examinations and investigations for the purpose of detecting occupational disorders.
Employee health and safety measures for contractor laborers are specified as follows. Every establishment that employs contract labor must offer and maintain adequate washing facilities for the use of contract labor. Separate and appropriate screening facilities for male and female personnel must be provided. Such facilities must be easily accessible and kept clean and sanitary at all times. Employers are also required to have readily available first-aid kits at a rate of not less than one box for every 150 contract labor hours or a portion thereof normally employed. The boxes’ contents will be as specified in the legislation. With personnel above the age of 50, the content of the boxes varies as well. They must be clearly identified with a red cross on a white background. Within 60 days of the start of contract labor employment, the Contractor should offer an acceptable canteen for use in enterprises with more than one hundred employees. The contractor or primary employer is responsible for keeping the canteen in good working order. They should have access to a toilet and urinal in accordance with industry norms. There should be at least one latrine for every 25 females or fewer where females are working and there should be at least one latrine for every 25 men or less where males are employed.
The safety regulations for Motor workers mandates that the employers must offer free uniforms and raincoats to drivers, conductors and line checking employees engaged in any activity. While on duty, the aforementioned types of motor transport personnel are required to wear their uniforms. Employers must also offer soap and towels at the canteen’s washing stations and motor employees have the right to restrooms that meet certain standards. Moreover, at each operational center and halting station, a dispensary shall be provided and maintained with such equipment and medications as the State Government may specify. This is required for centers that have 250 or more motor transport personnel on duty every day. A competent medical practitioner must be in control of a dispensary, aided by personnel as needed by the government. Every operating center and halting station with less than 250 motor transport personnel on duty should include a First Aid kit
Employers in the motor transport industry are required to offer an appropriate cafeteria at every location where 100 or more motor transport workers are expected to report for duty each day. The aforementioned canteen can be lawfully augmented by canteens set up for the general public. In such a situation, workers should be eligible for discounted vouchers. The canteen must be kept in good working order.
To add to this, the Factories Act mandates companies to provide workers engaged in hazardous employment with protective equipment (means of protection). The proposed OSH Code empowers the Central Government to issue rules on the provision of protective equipment or protective apparel by notification in the Official Gazette. It is the employer’s obligation to give his employees the required instruction, training, and supervision to guarantee their health and safety at work. According to the draft OSH Code (2019), employers are responsible for providing the essential information, education, training, and supervision to guarantee the health and safety of all employees at work. The Factories Act establishes a robust but restrictive labor inspection system under which the inspection is state-based. Inspectors have the authority under national legislation to enter workplace premises to examine, enquire about, or interview anybody; to request or obtain a copy of any prescribed register, record, or other document; and to take measurements and pictures. The labor inspector may also disassemble or submit it to any procedure or test, as well as seize any object or substance that appears to cause danger to health and safety and detain it for as long as it is necessary for such examination. The draft legislation, on the other hand, broadens the scope of exams and inspections to include web-based inspections.
Hence, it can be concluded that the new codes and amendments in the health and safety management system of India aim to bring about an abundance of changes in the interest of the workers in order to maximize their benefits.
MONICA BINNY NAVELI SHARMA ABHIGYAN TYAGI