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“Ensuring a safe workplace needs much more than laws and supervision”

Apr 29, 2013

Training and awareness regarding work related health & safety issues should find a place in schools and colleges where the nation’s future workforce is in making, writes Dileep Narayanrao Andhare, Professor (Occupational Health), Indian Institute of Public Health.

Dileep Narayanrao Andhare

Without a single exception, all human beings work to earn their living. The nature of work and workplace may vary, but work we must, to survive in this world! While work may be a necessity, it does carry with it risk of injury and illness. Once again, degree of severity and risk may vary widely.

Worldwide, occupational diseases continue to be the leading cause of work-related deaths. According to ILO estimates, out of 2.34 million occupational fatalities every year, only 321,000 are due to accidents. The remaining 2.02 million deaths are caused by various types of work-related diseases, which correspond to a daily average of more than 5,500 deaths. This is an unacceptable Decent Work deficit.

The inadequate prevention of occupational diseases has profound negative effects not only on workers and their families but also on society at large due to the tremendous costs that it generates; particularly, in terms of loss of productivity and burdening of social security systems.

Following ILO (International Labor Organization) statistics is scary, to say the least:
Health and safety at work: Facts and figures

  • 2.02 million People die each year from work-related diseases.
  • 321,000 people die each year from occupational accidents.
  • 160 million non-fatal work-related diseases per year.
  • 317 million non –fatal occupational accidents per year.

This means that:

  • Every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease.
  • Every 15 seconds, 151 workers have a work-related accident.

Deaths and injuries take a particularly heavy toll in developing countries, where a large part of the population is engaged in hazardous activities, such as agriculture, construction, fishing and mining.

The 28th of April is also a day on which the world's trade union movement holds its international Commemoration Day for Dead and injured Workers to honor the memory of victims of occupational accidents and diseases and organize worldwide mobilisations and campaigns on this date.

While accidents are dramatic in nature and come to attention quickly, occupational illness is mostly hidden and passed off as any general disease affecting us. Many times, this is out of ignorance but sometimes, intentional.
There are several reasons why occupational illness is unrecognised or under-reported. Apart from ignorance and complacence, mistrust between employers and employees & between employers and regulatory agencies is a major issue.

What then, needs to be done?
Well, as in any other public health issue; knowledge and awareness is a potent weapon. Of course, employers and regulatory agencies have their statutory obligations but in a vast country like ours with 90 per cent of workforce in unorganised sector, this hardly helps.

Reaching out to unorganised sector through primary health care could be a major thrust. BOHS (basic occupational health services) is the stated goal of many organisations including IAOH (Indian Association of Occupational Health) and ICOH (International Commission on Occupational Health).

For this to be effective, reforms are needed in medical education curriculum. With teaching of Occupational Health limited to a small chapter in Community Medicine, doctors passing out of medical colleges are ill equipped to recognize and manage occupational illness.

An immediate step could be to augment training of doctors and paramedical personnel in Occupational Health. Considering the huge numbers required, a handful of courses run by government would obviously be inadequate to meet the requirement. A public private partnership in capacity building efforts is the need of hour and should be encouraged.

As a parallel measure, creating job opportunities for health care personnel trained in OH would ensure demand for such courses.

Orientation of medical officers and paramedics employed by government in rural or urban health care settings could similarly be a quick fix for this issue.

Employers and employees also need awareness and sensitisation regarding occupational health; which needs as much attention, if not more, as safety.

Going a step further, training and awareness regarding work related health & safety issues should find a place in schools and colleges where the nation’s future workforce is in making.

To sum up, ensuring a safe and healthy workplace needs much more than laws and supervision. Government, regulatory bodies, NGOs, academicians, employers & employees have all to come together and make it happen.

After all, when it comes to steady progress of nation, every working hand counts!

Dr Bishwadeep Paul says:
Apr 29, 2013 11:35 PM

Dr Andhare, very much to the point & beautifully written!

DR RAJIV KUMAR JAIN says:
Apr 30, 2013 10:00 PM

The comments above are very well placed and timely.

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