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Work can kill

India's road to developed-nation status is littered with the bodies of its workers. If at least 40,000 workers die every year at work, and lakhs more, particularly in the informal sector, fall prey to occupational diseases, it's just collateral damage. One can understand industry's motives in absolving itself of liability, but how does one explain the government's lapses in this regard, or that of trade unions and workers collectives?

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Voices from the ground

The testimonies of people affected by conditions in the workplace that have altered their lives forever

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Status of occupational safety and health in India

By Sanjiv Pandita

India has had legislation on occupational safety and health for 50 years. But regulatory authorities are limited to 1,400 safety officers, 1,154 factory inspectors, and 27 medical inspectors. These numbers are grossly inadequate even for the inspection of formal units that only employ about 10% of India's total workforce (around 26 million), let alone the millions who work in the informal sector with absolutely no safeguards

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Salt pains

By Anosh Malekar

An estimated 43,000 people -- saltpan workers, their families and dependants -- engage in salt farming during the September-May season in the Little Rann of Kutch, living and working in conditions that can only be described as medieval. They earn 12 paise a kg of salt produced, suffering all sorts of skin diseases from being constantly immersed in brine. There is no power, no potable water, no schools and no healthcare here

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The judicial response to workplace safety

By Mihir Desai

It was only after the 1920s that the law recognised the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe work environment for his employees. Since then, a number of laws and judicial interpretations that deal with occupational safety and health have been passed. But these provide security only to the organised workforce. They have not been effective in dealing with the unorganised sector

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Heat, dust and chemical exposure

Photographs and text by P Madhavan

From textile dyeing units to the asbestos and granite industries, millions handle toxic chemicals and meterials with no protective gear and no awareness of the hazards involved

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The destruction of construction

By Roger Moody

Half-a-million labourers are employed in the natural stone industry of Rajasthan alone, so it's impossible to calculate exactly how many people toil all over India to supply the stone, cement and bricks of the boom-time construction industry. Yet, India still clings to elementary methods of extraction using bonded labourers, many of them female and under 14, with absolutely no safeguards

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Fashionable and famous -- at the garment worker's cost!

By Suhasini Singh

India's success in the global garments market has been at the cost of the basic rights of this industry's predominantly female and migrant labour force. These women work in sweatshops that demand impossible targets of 100-120 garments an hour, with virtually no breaks allowed. Eighty per cent of TB patients registered with the ESIC, accordingly to one official, are garment workers exposed to cotton fluff

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The dust that kills

By Jagdish Patel

The longest word in the English language is the full form of silicosis. No one knows it, just as no one knows that 10 million workers in India are at risk of silicosis, a fatal disease often mistaken for tuberculosis. Some industries, like the slate pencil industry in Mandsaur, report a 59% prevalence of silicosis. One village in Andhra Pradesh is even known as Widow's Village because most of the men in the village were stonecrushers who died of silicosis

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Poisoned by pesticides

By Kavitha Kuruganti

Occupational exposure to pesticides is routine among farmers and farm workers. For victims of pesticide poisoning, recovery is not easy. For medical practitioners treating poisoning cases, it is just another source of income. For the pesticide industry, it's business as usual. Meanwhile, the government chooses to turn a blind eye to the issue, preferring to blame the victims for their ignorance and negligence in wrongly handling pesticides

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'Controlled use': First world ideals, third world realities

By Madhumita Dutta

'Controlled use' is the basic idea that seems to justify the continued use of dangerous substances such as pesticides and asbestos. But what science informs it? What politics pushes it? Experts say it is no more than sales propaganda from the chemical industry, not only in India but also in western countries where this idea was first mooted as an apology for the use of hazardous substances

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Dark side of the chip

By Amanda Hawes and Ted Smith

The ‘clean rooms’ of the high-tech electronics industry actually use several toxic chemicals

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Sewer rats

By Vidya Venkat

There is no data on the occupational health and safety of sanitation workers, most of whom are dalits employed on contract. Official records of Chennai Metrowater confirm 17 worker deaths since 2003. The all-India number of deaths of sewerage workers would run into the thousands. Workers who manage to survive plunging bare-bodied into clogged sewers suffer several ailments including tuberculosis

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Cyber-coolies

BPO workers, considered a pampered lot by some, actually spend long hours at the computer and telephone, with almost no breaks. Their work is repetitive and intensive, with unrealistically high targets and constant surveillance, say labour lawyers Vinod Shetty and Ketaki Rege. Eighty per cent work overtime thrice a week, and 24% report work-related health problems

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ESI roadblocks

By Suhasini Singh and R Sukanya

ESIS is a contributory health insurance scheme that is supposed to cater to 80 lakh workers and their families. But bureaucratic hurdles ensure that workers find it virtually impossible to access these resources. As a result, the ESIC has built up reserves of US$1.63 billion, even while workers and their families struggle to get medical services

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Mercury rising

Text by Nityanand Jayaraman. Photographs by Sudhanshu Malhotra

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Survival over safety, livelihood over health

By Shalini Sharma

The issue of occupational safety and health is not high on the priorities of trade unions in India, say four senior representatives of India's leading trade unions. How can it be otherwise, they ask, in a country where 133 million of the employed labour force continue to be below the poverty line? Occupational safety must come second to the struggle for fair wages and the battle against exploitation and unemployment

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The neutrality of science

By Rakhal Gaitonde

If science were objective and neutral, why would there be such a paucity of research on occupational safety and health? Is it because of the '10/90 gap', where 10% of the population's problems command 90% of the research funds, with the majority - mostly the poor and marginalised -- getting only 10% of all funding for its problems?

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