himachal workers

Among all the people who leave for work on any given day, about 1000 do not return home—they die in workplace accidents. This is stated on the basis on the total number of occupational accident fatalities in a year, the WHO/ILO estimate for which is 360,000 in a year.

This is very sad, but even more distressing is the fact that, according to estimates put out by the WHO and the ILO together, fatalities in a year caused by occupational diseases are over four times higher (1.54 million) than the fatalities caused by occupational accidents.

Although estimates are more difficult to obtain on non-fatal accidents, worldwide about 300 million occupational accidents take place in a year while about 150 million fall victim to occupational diseases. Millions of workers suffering from occupational diseases and injuries are disabled and discarded at a relatively young age, often spending the remaining years of their life in extremely difficult conditions. Nikhil Dey, a senior social activist of India who has been exposed to seeing much hunger and several droughts, says that the only times he could not control his tears was when he saw  workers  suffering from silicosis, an incurable disease caused among a large number of workers exposed to silica dust. In a cruel irony this most serious health hazard is posed in the mining and processing of red sandstone which is used mainly in grand mansions.

The high incidence of occupational diseases is being worsened by the appearance of more and more hazards at workplaces, including carcinogens. The ILO says over 600,000 workers die due to exposure to hazardous substances in a year. Long hours spent in unhealthy, stressful work conditions are another factor of serious concern, with excessive working time being a cause of as many as 750,000 or almost one half of the total number of occupational disease fatalities in a year, in WHO/ILO estimates.

Levels of workplace violence are also very high in several countries. According to the European Working Conditions Survey, 6 million workers are exposed to workplace violence in a year in the European Union. If verbal violence is included, this number rises to 30 million. In the USA on average about 670 workers die and 106,000 have to be taken for hospital emergency treatment due to workplace violence in a year.

In the USA and Europe, various surveys reveal that in the course of their career, over 50% of women and over 15% of men are exposed to sexual harassment in some form or the other.

According to a 2021 study of workplace health in USA ( Mental Health at Work Report, Mind Share Partners), 76% of workers reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition ( anxiety, depression), an increase of 17% in just 2 years, and 84% of respondents reported at least one workplace factor that had a negative impact on their mental health. Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce Report, 2022, tells us that although an average employee spends 81,396 hours at work, adequate efforts do not appear to have gone into making working time healthy, friendly, involving and creative. This report found that 60 per cent per cent of the workers are emotionally detached while 19 per cent are miserable, while only the remaining 21 per cent can be stated to be engaged.  In Europe those engaged are only 14 per cent. As the CEO of Gallup Jon Clifton says in his foreword, if it is asked did you feel worried at work yesterday, 56% are likely to say yes. If asked did you feel stressful at work yesterday, 59% are likely to say yes. When asked if the worker felt physical pain a lot of the day, 33% will say yes. 31% would admit to have been angry. Few would venture to call this happy or creative working environment!

To improve the situation, remuneration for work has to improve significantly at lower levels. No less important is that significant improvements are needed in the daily direct interactions of workers with the lower or immediate levels of management.

The workload should not be too high and the time allotted to perform various tasks should not be so tight as to create stress. There should be consideration for any adverse health condition of workers. There should be more frequent breaks, and these should not be too short. Restroom facilities should be adequate.

There should be better appreciation of good work performance, as well as arrangements for training and help for those who are lagging behind. Excessive work hours should be avoided, and in the case of work which involves more stress and concentration or safety risk, these should be lesser than the norm. Safety audits should be carried out more regularly and with higher competence. Workers should have adequate insurance cover.

Facilities for justly and promptly responding to complaints of workers, particularly women, relating to any violence or harassment should be in place.

While all this will not make all work creative or involving, this will be a step forward.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine, Planet in Peril and a Day in 2071.


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