Occupational Health & Safety

Occupational Health & Safety

Occupational Health & Safety:

According to the United Nations’ World Health Organization (UNWHO), occupational health and safety deals with all aspects of health and safety in the workplace, focuses on primary prevention of hazards; including risk factors at the workplace leading to cancers, accidents, musculoskeletal diseases, respiratory diseases, hearing loss, circulatory diseases, stress related disorders and communicable diseases and others. Additionally, working conditions in the formal or informal economy embrace other important determinants, including, working hours, salary, workplace policies concerning maternity leave, health promotion and protection provisions, and so forth. Moreover, Constitution of the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) sets forth the principle that workers must be protected from sickness, disease and injury arising from their employment. However, according to the most recent ILO global estimates, 2.78 million work-related deaths are recorded every year, of which 2.4 million are related to occupational diseases. In addition to the immense suffering caused for workers and their families, the associated economic costs are colossal for enterprises, countries and the world. The losses in terms of compensation, lost workdays, interrupted production, training and reconversion, as well as health-care expenditure, represent around 3.94 per cent of the annual global GDP.

Prior to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, 1973, occupational health and safety was governed by the Factories Act, 1934, as the subject of labour fell within the Concurrent Legislative List. Chapter II of The Factories Act, 1934, stipulated that the Provincial Governments hire qualified inspectors and medical practitioners. Chapter III of The Factories Act, 1934 laid down extensive stipulations for ensuring health and safety of the workforce in a factory and provided for examinations of the health of the workforce twice a year and stipulations against overcrowding. Whereas, Chapter IV laid down restrictions on the workhours of the workforce, and Chapter V laid down special provisions for hiring adolescents and children. Chapter VI mandated holiday with pay, and Chapter VII laid down extensive penalties which would be applicable in case of non-compliance with the provisions of The Factories Act, 1934. However, for almost eight decades the Provincial Government of Sindh failed to make any rules or standards as mandated under the Act, or to otherwise ensure the enforcement of The Factories Act, 1934.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, 1973, devolved powers of the Federal Government to the Provincial Governments and made labour a Provincial subject. In 2015, the Sindh Factories Act, 2015 (Act No.XIII of 2016) was enacted; that adopted the Factories Act, 1934. However, with the passage of time, it became imperative to have a specialized law on occupational health and safety which is not limited to factories. This was in light of multiple catastrophic lapses of occupational health and safety standards in workplaces, which were not limited to factories as defined under The Factories Act, 2015, such as the Baldia Factory Fire, 2012, and the Gadani Shipbreaking Yard Fire, 2016. As a result, the Sindh Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2017 (OSH Act, 2017) was passed by the Government of Sindh in order to address the growing terror of unsafe and unhealthy workplaces endangering the workforce of Sindh. However, the OSH Act remains substantively unenforced by the Government of Sindh till date.

Section 10 of the Act requires that Government, by notification in the official Gazette, make rules for the health and safety of the worker or volunteer in any establishment or class of establishments. Section 13 of the OSH Act, 2017, requires that the employer shall, at least once in two years, allow occupational safety and health representative to attend health and safety training as approved by Government and shall bear all expenses thereof including paid leave, course fee, lodging boarding, travelling etc. Section 17 of the OSH Act, 2017, relates to the registration of all workplaces. Section 18(1) of the OSH Act, 2017, requires that Government, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint such persons possessing such professional degree in the relevant fields, to be Inspectors for the purposes of this Act within local limits as it may assign to them respectively. Section 18(2) mandates that the Chief Inspector of Factories Sindh, appointed under the Factories Act 2015 shall be the Chief Safety and Health Inspector under the Act and shall exercise the powers of an Inspector throughout the Province of Sindh. However, none of these provisions are currently enforce due to absence of required regulations and notifications by the government.

Section 26(1) of the OSH Act, 2017, mandates that Government shall establish a Council for Occupational Safety and Health Sindh. It is noted that the ‘Occupational Health and Safety Council’ has been notified vide Notification No. 1-11-2-4/2018, dated: August 2019. However, the aforesaid Occupational Health and Safety Council has not met and has failed to begin discharging its duties as mandated under Section 27 of the OSH Act, 2017.

In order to address the abovementioned matter, RCCHR is going to be filing a Constitutional Petition, before the Honourable High Court of Sindh, in order to achieve the effective implementation of the 2017 Act, in letter and spirit