This Indian attitude: On use of safety gear in Indian Industry (Part 1)

While I still struggle with framing the argument for this economics paper that I had to turn in a last week, here goes the abstract. Folks reading could give me a thought or two to help, or just go poke holes to reveal its flaws. Schematics by @praveenasridhar

The question- why does India exhibit such gross levels of Personal Protective Equipment adoption and use has bothered us for over three months during which we have tried to explore the landscape of use of safety gear (termed Personal Protective Equipment or PPE here) in various sectors of the industry. We explore why is it difficult for Indian industries in FMCG, Oil & Petrochem, Building & Construction etc, to enforce and value safety measures and consequently PPE in their processes. We do this by approaching this issue in 3 ways:

  1. Study of regulatory framework of OHS in India

    Ministry and various departments at central and state level responsible for Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in India

    Ministry and various departments at central and state level responsible for Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in India

  2. Discussion with senior executives from an industry leader in safety audits.
  3. A small informal survey of labourers at a construction site

The paper begins with outlining the regulatory and legal landscape of occupational health and safety (OHS) in India. It includes the various legislations that are in force. In this landscape we locate the building and construction industry which form the paper’s specific focus. The discussion on PPE in this paper is specific to its use in building and construction industry, although the arguments are applicable to other industries as well. It is widely held that three issues affect the use of PPE in India – (i) cost (of providing PPE to workers) (ii) design (iii) attitude towards safety and health. These are discussed briefly. Following this, the implications of inadequate use of PPE and poor OHS standards is pursued by using an implications framework. We conclude by stating that Indian industry has strong reasons to adhere to OHS practices not only in cases where there is a direct threat to man and property but in a wider sense. Towards this PPE use is paramount. We suggest that it is in a company’s own interest (even if they do not see direct monetary benefits in ensuring PPE use) if its worker’s enjoy good health at work, are prevented from health hazards at work (which they may or may not realize will happen) and feels the environment to be safe for himself. The company on the other hand benefits from a healthy and efficient workforce. Additionally, it is seen as an ethical and caring employer which is a strong incentive in today’s labour market in India. With high attrition rates and labour shortages this measure can greatly help companies in ensuring that adequate labour supply. On the customer side, the company gains a reputation of being a company with values and this is likely to boost its image with its prospective clients.

Slide2

Legislations and Regulations that exist in OHS in India

Various legislations in different sectors in India. Building and Other Construction Workers Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services act, 1996 is highlighted as it relates to the building and construction industry sector that the paper focuses.

Various legislations in different sectors in India. Building and Other Construction Workers Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services act, 1996 is highlighted as it relates to the building and construction industry sector that the paper focuses.

In our quest to find institutional elements that define such behaviour we subject the actual behaviour of these companies to the theoretical framework that economists like Douglass North and Garry Becker offer which basically relates culture and economics in a manner that it helps explain such departures like our study where in spite of the fact that there isn’t really a significant incentive for companies to not provide PPE to their employees. At the same time the benefits of greater employee care and safety concern seems to escape their understanding.  We have tried to study this departure and tried to arrive at its root cause.

Interestingly, when we compare the trend of use of PPE in industries across the world we find that their adoption is not an aspect of country’s development standards, but likely of relatively abstract aspects like prevailing culture in that geography.

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