Right of Workers to Occupational Health and Safety

Occupational injuries and diseases:

The Indian Constitution has shown notable concern about workers in factories and industries as evidenced in its Preamble and the Directive Principles of State Policy.

The Directive Principles of State Policy provide:

  1. For securing the health and strength of workers, men and women;
  2. that the tender age of children is not abused;
  3. that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength;
  4. just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief are provided; and,
  5. that the Government shall take steps, by suitable legislation or in any other way, to secure the participation of workers in the management of undertakings, establishments or other organizations engaged in any industry.

Occupational Health Laws:

The Factories Act, 1948, The Mines Act, 1952, The Dock Workers (Safety, Health & Welfare) Act, 1986 are some of the laws, that regulate the health of workers in an establishment. The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948 and the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 are compensatory in nature.

Article 39(e) charges that the policy of the State shall be to secure ‘health and strength of the workers.

Article 42 mandates that the States shall make provision, statutory or executive ‘to secure just and humane conditions of work.

Article 43 directs that the State shall endeavour to secure to all workers, by suitable legislation or economic organization or any other way, a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities.

Article 25(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises the right to a standard of adequate living for health and well-being of the individual including medical care, sickness and disability.

Article 2(b) of the International Covenant on Political, Social and Cultural Rights protects the right of worker to enjoy just and favourable conditions of work ensuring safe and healthy working conditions.

As regards health care, Section 10 of the Factories Act lays down that a State Government may appoint qualified medical practitioners as ‘certifying surgeons’ to discharge the following duties:

  • Examination and certification of young persons and examination of persons engaged in hazardous occupation.
  • Exercising medical supervision where the substances used or new manufacturing processes adopted may result in a likelihood of injury to the workers.
  • Exercising medical supervision in case of young persons to be employed in work likely to cause injury.

S. 45 of the Factories Act also mandates that every factory for every 150 workers there should be at least one first aid box to be in charge of a person who holds a certificate in first aid from the State Government. Besides, every factory with more than 500 workers is required to have an ambulance room and prescribed medical and nursing staff.

Rule 78 prescribes that in every factory which employs more than 500 workers the Ambulance Room must be in the charge of a qualified medical practitioner with at least one qualified nurse. Article 27(1) provides that the state parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. Article 31(1) recognizes the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

Article 32 which is material for the purpose of this case reads as under:

  1. State parties recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
  2. State parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, State parties shall in particular:
    • Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;
    • Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;
    • Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the present article.

The Court issued various directions including the following:

  • The medical examination of workers which is to be conducted under Section 41E of the Factories Act, 1948 should be such as would enable an identification of diseases and illnesses which are a likely outcome of the process and material used in the factory;
  • Copies of medical records of workmen must be handed over to them as and when medical examinations are conducted and the appropriate government will consider the issuance of suitable directions mandating the permanent preservation of medical records in the electronic form by factories engaged in hazardous processes;
  • In respect of factories involved in hazardous processes, safety and occupational health surveys as required by Section 91A should invariably be carried out at the time of renewal of licenses, apart from other times.

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