The profit-driven nature of the manufacturing-industrial complex puts the health and safety of workers on the back burner. India has such a large manpower resource that protective gear is considered a luxury on factory floors. In fact, manufacturers find less incentive in protecting the health of the workforce than in working them to the bone in order to maximise profit. This is exactly the kind of exploitation that National Safety Day wants to reduce.
Observed in our country on March 4th every year, it puts the spotlight on how to prevent industrial accidents from happening and attempts to fill the gaps in safety legislation. National Safety Day calls for companies to fulfill the legal requirements for occupational protection, and to go beyond mere compliance into the wellbeing of their employees.
What is National Safety Day?
National Safety Day marks the date when the Ministry of Labour at the centre established the National Safety Council of India (NSC). This council was set up in the year 1966. Its purpose was to continue the SHE movement on a national scale. No, we aren’t talking feminism here! SHE stands for Safety, Health and Environment. Essentially, March is the Foundation Day of NSC but the observance didn’t begin until the year 1972. The day led further into the week-long National Safety Week Campaign.
What is National Safety Council?
Founded on March 4, 1966, the National Safety Council (NSC) is an autonomous body. It’s a non-profit enterprise registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860 and the Bombay Public Trust Act 1950. The NSC is expected to conduct conferences and workshops on occupational safety, and proactively participate in safety audits and risk assessment. Although the NSC has been part of conferences like the World Congress in 1993 and APOSHO Conference (1995 and 2016), it does not have as much visibility on factory floors as the Gulf Coast Safety Council or the American Safety Council. We hope to see more activities from the NSC in the coming decade since SDG 8 calls for “Decent Work” which includes security in the workplace.
Reopening post quarantine
Coronavirus cases continue to rise even after Unlock phase in India, especially in the cities where factories and offices are located. This trend has brought employers face-to-face with the new challenge of safely reopening businesses and operating despite increased exposure to customers. The vaccination drive will take a few months to come to your doorstep. Until then, the most effective strategy for reducing transmission is to keep people physically distant from each other. The lesser time employees and contract workers spend interacting with each other, the better.
Most companies are operating in staggered shifts. Meanwhile, some companies are retrofitting the workplace to mitigate COVID-19 risks. Install plastic barriers between workstations which are less than six feet apart to avoid cross-contamination among the executives. Plastic barriers will prevent respiratory droplets from travelling outside the person’s workstation area. However, they aren’t completely foolproof in isolating aerosolized particles that could be lingering in the air for hours.
The construction industry is adapting to social distancing norms with newer building strategies. Off-site construction (where the components of a building are assembled in a warehouse and then brought to the site) is one option. Since the building components are under construction away from the main site, the number of personnel and contract labourers is in check and they can practice social distancing more effectively. This arrangement also balance the budgets and their safety gear.
Some companies have installed UV light decontamination systems in enclosed workspaces. Ultraviolet light is good at inactivating other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS. If you are pursuing the UV route of disinfection, be extremely cautious. UV light is harmful for the eyes and skin. To avoid surface contact, many offices and factories in India have installed foot-operated door handles and foot-operated or touchless bathroom fixtures.
National Safety Day in the midst of the pandemic reminds us how important the health and security of workers really is. Let’s never forget that.