As an employee, apart from remuneration paid for work, your primary concern is safety.
Factory workers are exposed to substantial risks working in highly mechanised plants around harmful materials. Therefore, it’s necessary to opt for all means to make the plant safer and ensure workers’ well-being in the long run.
Safety provisions under the Factories Act, 1948
Provisions ensuring the safety and health of workers are given under the Factories Act, 1948. These provisions apply to premises where ten or more workers worked in the past twelve months when manufacturing is carried out with aid of power.1 For example, a car factory may fall under the ambit of this law as a manufacturing process in plants like Maruti Suzuki and Honda involve more than 10 workers working with the aid of power.
The Act is applicable to premises where the manufacturing process is carried out without power when twenty or more workers have worked in the past twelve months.1 For example, a manual bidi rolling plant with more than twenty workers qualifies for this law to apply.
The State Government appoints inspectors to ensure that the factories regularly comply with safety and health standards as provided by law. If a complaint is filed with the inspector, he/she can look into the affairs of the factory. The inspector mandatorily treats such a complaint as confidential.2 Upon seeing that an offence is being committed at the factory, he/she can file a complaint at the court, or sanction cognisance of the offence to be taken by the court.3
Are you a worker?
If you are employed directly by an employer or through an agency/contractor, you are entitled to the safety and health measures provided under the law. Such employment may be remuneration based or not. You can be engaged in the manufacturing process, cleaning of any part of the factory and the works incidental or connected to the manufacturing.4 For example, you will be entitled to safety measures under the law if you’re involved in the manufacturing process of a car, and when doing activities in relation to manufacturing, like cleaning, serving supper, packaging or cleaning the final product.
Health and Safety related provisions for workers
Health facilities which ensure your long term well being are:
Cleanliness: You cannot be made to work in surroundings which aren’t clean and free from odours arising from any drainage. Nuisances arising from lack of cleanliness, like breeding mosquitoes in the work surroundings should be prevented. It is mandatory to remove accumulated dirt, build appropriate drainage systems and painting/repainting and cleaning of interior walls. The employers must keep a track of the maintenance activities in a prescribed register.5
Waste and Effluents disposal: Every factory must make effective arrangements for the treatment of waste products and effluents of the like, produced during the manufacturing process.6
Maintenance of temperature levels, provision of ventilation: You should not work in extra-normal temperatures. Adequate ventilation and temperature control facilities are crucial to secure comfort and prevent injuries arising from extra-normal temperatures in workrooms.7 There must be walls and roofs of material which keeps the temperature as low as practicable. Heat producing machinery must be insulated and separated.
Dust and Fumes Treatment: You should not be exposed to any dust or fumes harmful to your health. Measures like installing exhaust appliances to prevent inhalation or accumulation of dust/fumes produced in workrooms during the manufacturing process should be adopted. Combustion engines operating inside the factory should have their exhaust conducted into the open air. When placed in a closed room, effective measures should be taken to prevent the accumulation of fumes from the combustion engine.8
Prevention of Overcrowding: You should not work in a room overcrowded to a harmful extent. If the factory was established before 1948, you will have a minimum of 9.9 m3 space. For post-1948 factories, the area per worker should be approximately 14.2 m3.9
Provision for Lighting: Abundant lighting while you work is mandatory. Your employer must ensure abundant lighting of workrooms and areas where you may cross as a worker. Any likelihood of glare or shadows causing strain to your eyes should also be avoided.10
Provision for clean drinking water: You should be provided with clean drinking water in the factory. The employer must make arrangements for sufficient supply of drinking water at suitable points in the factory, marked as Drinking Water in a language understood by the majority of workers in your plant. These points should be at least 6 meters away from any washing place, urinal, latrine or any other source of contamination. The employer must make provisions for cooling and effective distribution of water if there are more than 250 workers.11
Sanitation Facilities (Latrines, urinals and spittoons): You should have all-time access to conveniently placed closed accommodation of latrine and urinal facilities. Thorough washing and cleaning of the washrooms are mandatory. Urinals and latrines may be proportionate to the number of workers when recommended by the State Government.12
You should also have access to clean and hygienically maintained spittoons provided across the factory. No person shall spit within the factory premises except in the spittoons. A notice containing this provision and penalty for its violation must be prominently displayed at suitable places in the factory premises.13
You are often exposed to heavy machinery and dangerous materials which may be a risk to your health or lives. Employers are mandated to ensure precautionary measures against such risks.
Fencing of machinery: Unless in case of an examination of machinery in motion or its lubrication, every moving part of the machinery present in the factory should be securely fenced with well maintained substantial construction.14
Exposure to machinery in motion: When it becomes necessary to examine machinery in motion, such examination or operation should only be carried out by a specially trained adult worker wearing tight-fitting clothing sponsored by your employer.14 While engaging with an examination of machinery, special precautions should be taken by your employer including provision of secure foothold and handhold, securely fixed ladder or firmly lashed by another person when needed, etc.15
Work involving exposure to moving parts of machinery should not be carried out by any woman or young person.15 A young person may work if he has been imparted special training, works under the supervision and is fully instructed as to the dangers arising out of the work and the relevant precautions.16
Provision of striking gear: Your employer should make provisions to equip the factory with suitable equipment, striking gear and relevant devices for cutting off power in case of emergency from running machinery, belts etc.17
Secure floors, stairs and means of access: Your areas of access like floors, stairs and passages should be well maintained and of sound construction. They must be kept free from obstructions and materials which may cause any person to slip. Handrails shall be provided in passages wherever needed. If you work at a height where there is a risk of falling the employer should make fencing-railing facilities.18 Pits, vessels, sumps or openings in the floor required for the factory processes should be adequately covered.19
Excessive weights and protection of eyes: You should not be made to carry or move any load which may cause injury.20 You should be provided for use, suitable goggles or effective screens if employed or in the vicinity of the process involving risk of injury to eyes from particles or fragments or excessive light produced in the course of the process.21
Precautions Against dangerous fumes, gases etc.: You should not have to enter any chamber, tank or pit etc. which harbours to a risky extent, any gas, fume or vapour. In the event such an entry is required, sufficient measures should be undertaken to remove any such gas, fume or vapour to bring it down to permissible limits. You should be provided with suitable breathing apparatus and belt which is securely attached to a rope whose free end is held by a person outside such confined space if working in such chamber22
Precautions in case of fire: Your employers are mandated to secure all practicable means to prevent the outbreak of fire and its spread. You should also be given safe means of escape, necessary equipment and facilities for extinguishing a fire. Your employer must also familiarise you with the escape plan, training you in the routine to be followed in case of fire.23
Provision of a first-aid box: Every factory should be equipped with readily accessible and maintained first-aid boxes. They should be equipped with prescribed contents. One first aid box should be maintained for every one hundred and fifty workers ordinarily employed at one time in the factory.24
Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code: A step towards more inclusive worker protection
The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code of 201925 was introduced in 2019, as an attempt by the Central Government to rationalise diverse central labour regulations. The Code seeks to provide a broad legislative framework to ensure just and humane conditions of work across various economic activities.
The Code amalgamates safety laws related to 13 sectors including factories, mines, construction workers, migrant workers etc. and applies to all establishments having 10 or more workers. Additionally, it proposes “one registration” for all establishments, allows women to work at night and provides for a common license for factories, contract labour and beedi and cigar establishments.
The safety and health related provisions under the Code are the same as the Factories Act. The change from Factories Act to the Code has been recommended to provide a broad legislative framework to ensure safety and better conditions of work while providing flexibility for making rules in lines with emerging technology.26 While the code has met with criticism owing to certain provisions, one being the exclusion of factories employing less than ten workers, its fate remains to be seen as it still lacks the assent of both houses of the parliament.27
Need for the safety of workers
Every employee expects safety, be it physical safety, social safety, financial safety or any other safety measures of the kind. Physical safety of the employees is a crucial factor to be regulated by the Government as it’s a primary responsibility of the employers. Employers tend to evade the provision of adequate security measures in a bid to save on the factory profits. Moreover, as there is often inequality of power between employers and employees, the government needs to act as a facilitator in securing the safety requirements for employees.
By way of the provisions in the Factories Act, 1948, the Legislature has attempted to bridge the gap between workers and the justice system by introducing model guidelines which should be taken care of by the employers. Furthermore, provision of an inspector ensures that workers have a way to approach the administration, who shall take their concerns forward to make amends in the factory, as well as to penalise the employer for their disregard towards workers’ safety and health.
Aryan Mohindroo is a student of National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, and a member of Kautilya, an initiative of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. Views are personal.