Overview on Occupational Health in India

Occupational health

Over 80% of India’s working population is part of the unorganised sector of which Agriculture (cultivators i.e. land owners + agriculture labourers) is the main occupation in India giving employment to about 52% of the people. Less than 10% of Indian population are working in organised sector.

The variable and insecure nature of the work means that more and more workers are pushed into taking up hazardous and precarious employment both in the informal economy as well as informal work in the formal sector. For these workers, employment not only fails to bring about a successful escape from poverty, it may contribute to existing vulnerabilities.

There are other contributory factors that lead to poor working conditions in the informal sector:

  • Little awareness about workplace.
  • No proper work hours.
  • Diagnosis of occupational diseases is difficult.
  • No clear distinction between living and working area complicates the problem and exposes relatives and others living in the vicinity to work-related risks.
  • Information on OSH hazards among informal workers is poor, their impact on women’s health is even less understood.
  • Child labour is a big problem in the informal sector in India. Children in the informal sector sometimes have to help their parents, for economic reasons.

The major occupational diseases/morbidity of concern in India are accidents, silicosis, musculo-skeletal injuries, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, chronic obstructive lung diseases, asbestosis, byssinosis, skin related disorders, pesticide poisoning, noise induced hearing loss and workplace stress.

The key challenges of Occupational Health & Safety in India are:

  1. Large number of unrecognised occupational illness.
  2. Unreported Occupational injuries.
  3. Large number of workforce in unorganised sector.
  4. Trained & Skilled OHS professional.
  5. Incomplete compliance of legislation.
  6. Multiplicity of statutory controls.
  7. Underfunding of Occupational Health programme.
  8. Neglected spending in Occupational Health by government.
  9. Infrastructure problem
  10. Delay in implementation in National Policy.

Legal framework & legislation:

Some other legal provisions for the protection of special working groups are

  • Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act, 1986,
  • Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation and the Employment and
    Conditions of Service) Act, 1996,
  • Child labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986
  • Insecticides Act, 1968,
  • Mines Act 1952, and 1957 and Mines Rules 1957
  • The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966;
  • Employee state insurance act,1948

Occupational health in India has still to compete with Primary & Curative health care services. While 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on health care, almost 75% of this is spent on curative health care services. Invariably, a negligible amount is spent on occupational health care.

Current and Future Needs:

The three most prime important OHS need at present scenario in India are

  1. Legislation to cover all sector of working force including unorganised sector.
  2. Awareness among stakeholder about OHS and active participation
  3. Development of proper infrastructure and Professional related to OHS.

Legislation

The National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at Work Place was declared by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India in February 2009 after consultations with partner.

The National Policy, referring to the Constitution of India, sets out a set of goals with the view to building and maintaining a national preventative safety and health culture and improving the safety, health and environment at workplace. The Policy also expresses a set of the national objectives.

The outline for Action Programme identifies eight specific working areas, including enforcement, national standards, compliance, awareness, research and development, occupational safety and health skills development and data collection.

Challenges in OHS:

There are many key challenges ahead with changing industrial environment in India, such as globalization, outsourcing, transfer of technologies, newer type of jobs (IT, Call Centre), change in employment patterns, etc. Additionally, factors like increasing
Literacy / education are also ensuring worker awareness and more and more “Right
to Information” demands from workers.
Questions which are still to be answered are

  1. How to address the concerns of unorganized sector and workplace changes?
  2. How to shift from management of accidents to their prevention and prediction
  3. How to move from proprietary standards to open standards and optimize with limited inspection resources?
  4. How to strengthen the occupational disease notification system and build an OHS culture?

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