Social Issues and Social Justice

25-03-2020: Workers Safety Concerns and Way Ahead

Context: Frequent accidents in fireworks units in Sivakasi, Tamilnadu

In news:

In the past decade 239 people have been killed and over 265 injured in 142 accidents in fireworks units.

The fireworks sector has currently grown to 1,070 licensed units employing an estimated 10 lakh workers.

Details:

Unsafe working conditions and improper handling of inflammable raw materials continue to endanger lives in the fireworks industry. The major causes for past accidents have been mainly:

The manufacturing of firecrackers generally happens in makeshift unlicensed units without any safety measures in place.

There is the rough handling of chemicals by untrained and unskilled workerswhich results in spillage or overloading of chemicals during the filling process. Mishandling of chemicals can trigger explosion.

These illegal units also work outside permitted areas, in the process risking the buildings and people around these illegal units as well.

The Chaitanya Prasad Committee

It examined, among other things, statutory and administrative shortcomings that led to the death of 40 workers at Om Shakti Fireworks Industries in 2012.

Some of the committee’s key findings are:

Conspicuous absence of proper inspection mechanisms at various government departments.

Lack of coordination between Central and State authoritiesdealing with the regulation of fireworks industries.

It recommended making sub-leasing of works by licensed units a cognisable penal offence

As part of industrial safety measures, it mandated inter-safety distances between sheds to be covered with earthen mounds.

Concerns:


Though occasional accidents in an industry dealing in explosive materials may seem inevitable, the frequency at which these incidents have been occurring is a concern.

Despite the existing rules and the Central and State licensing and enforcement authorities, the continued instances of fire accidents point to a lack of compliance and effective enforcement.

Crackdowns against violators have been few and far between.

There has been an absence of proper inspection mechanisms at various government departments.

Regulators understandably complain of a lack of manpower in checking violations.

There has also been a lack of coordination between Central and State authorities dealing with the regulation of fireworks industries.


The important committee recommendations of making sub-leasing of works by licensed units a cognisable penal offence has not been implemented.

Illegal sub-leasing of works to unlicensed cottage units has become a widely acknowledged practice in the industry.

Safety recommendationslike mandating inter-safety distances between sheds covered with earthen mounds and provision of a smoothened pathway with a width of 1.5 metres, as part of industrial safety measures have also not been implemented.

Way Ahead

Adopting safe work practices

Comprehensive monitoring by Central and State licensing

Strict enforcement of the safety guidelines by authorities.

Increased manpower in such enforcement & regulatory authorities

Implementing the recommendation of Chaitanya Prasad Committee

Awareness among stakeholders involved in the sector about the significance of safety in manufacturing process.

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