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"MSMEs Must Comply with OSH Standards"
Chemical industry involves dealing with hazardous chemicals and complex processes thus putting the workers at risk. Though most of the large players have incorporated safe practices in their work culture, many Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) still continue cutting the corners to reduce the operational cost, and many times end up losing more valuable thing – the human lives. The Factories Act, 1948 exist but it does not seem to solve the issue comprehensively. The act does not cover factories where less than 10 workers - with the aid of power are appointed. Vilas S Moray, Director, Directorate Industrial Safety & Health, Government of Maharashtra, in an exclusive interaction with Mittravinda Ranjan, urges upon the need to build the culture of safety irrespective of the size of the plant and number of workers, and talks about pioneering initiative of setting up the group of volunteers of industry experts who are incessantly propagating the message of creating the culture of inherent safety.

How does the Factories Act, 1948 mandate the factory owners to take responsibility of the workers on the site?
The Act first came into practice in 1881 in the country to ensure safe practices in manufacturing sector, and was later enforced uniformly across the country by the Government of India in 1948. The act has been formed by the central government and the state governments are mandated to enforce the law in respective states to ensure that the manufacturers follow safety norms. Time to time the lawmakers have amended the law aimed at making workplaces safer and in 1987 added the specific responsibilities of the occupier under Section-7A of this act to assure the health safety & welfare of workers by the owner.
Further to this, the state governments too have implemented certain set of rules depending on the local conditions which are in accordance with the Factories Act, 1948. In Maharashtra we have implemented Maharashtra Factories Rules, 1963 and the industries coming under the purview of the act mandated by the central government also have to comply with the rules of the state. This compels the employer to comply with certain norms to ensure welfare and safety of employees which many companies try to avoid otherwise.

What are the pro-active measures taken by the Directorate of Industrial Safety & Health to ensure implementation of the systems to ensure safety of all the stakeholders in the industries?
Directorate of Industrial Safety & Health is the enforcement authority which ensures that the manufacturers adhere to the occupational safety & health standards as mandated by the Factories Act, 1948. Over 45000 manufacturing facilities, which include chemical & non??chemical manufacturing industries in Maharashtra, come under the purview of this act and we aim at reducing the number of accidents in the industries by ensuring that the organisations abide by the norms which is done through regular factory visits by our officers regularly. But again - these are the ones which are covered under the Factories Act, 1948.

What about the law enforcement for small manufacturing units such as Chemistar plant which was small and had very few employees?
We take all the possible care at every step for those who seek permission from the Directorate Industrial Safety & Health while setting up the plant; however, the plant owners of very small facilities, which employ nine or less than nine people, are not mandated to seek permission from us. However, the factories like Chemistar are required to meet the compliance defined in Factories Act. For hazardous chemical units, it is mandatory to get registered under Factories Act even though the employment is less than 10. Nevertheless there have been very rare cases when even such plant owners have come to us and we have advised them on various safety aspects. Chemical manufacturing facilities which deal with toxic chemicals or hazardous chemicals are covered under the Maharashtra Factories Rule and are mandated for routine checks by the Directorate. As far as Chemistar plant is concerned, the investigation is currently going on and at this point of time we cannot share any detailed information.

How do you conduct the routine checks of all the industrial units?
Annual maintenance checks are mandated for the industries, which are conducted by the factory inspectors where the primary concern is about the safety and health of the employees. All potential situations that could result in accidents are assessed and remarks along with the recommended actions are noted in the inspection book. It is statutory for the every factory covered under the Factories Act to maintain the inspection book in which remarks are made about the required rectifications and the timelines to implement them. In case the factory-owners fail to meet complete the task within the given timeframe, they are issued show cause notice.
At present 137 officers have been sanctioned, and there are vacancies that will be filled up. Even with the available resources, we ensure that the routine visits to the factories are carried out.

What is the immediate action taken by the Directorate in case of accident cases?
In case of any accident, we try reaching the site as soon as possible to collect the necessary evidences before they get destroyed and interrogate the people to come as close as possible to the real cause to find the root cause of the accident.
Every accident case entails detailed enquiry followed by complete report which is later assessed by the experts who then suggest the remedial measures to avoid such situations.
We have also set up the Mutual Aid Responsibility Group (MARG), a group of experts who have volunteered to be a part of our initiative. The members of MARG have been actively pursuing interactions with various small and medium scale enterprises and also taken remedial actions at many accident sites. One of the recent incidents of chlorine gas leak at Mumbai Port Trust that affected over 100 people was taken care of by MARG members who immediately took charge of situation and helped the Mumbai Port Trust take care of another 100 cylinders that were left unattended for over a decade at the site.

Avoiding accidents calls for more initiatives towards building culture of safety which is todayÊs need of the hour. Is the Directorate working in this direction?
Yes, we are. We do believe that safety must start at the very basic level, and in order to avoid such incidents, the Directorate of Industrial Safety & Health takes various initiatives towards creating greater awareness aimed at developing the culture of inherent safety across the industries and regularly conducts workshops, seminars and awareness drives.
Building the culture of safety would require us to inculcate the approach right from the childhood and that is why we have been conducting programmes and competitions at the school levels.

What would be your message to the industry towards mitigating accidental risks?
It would be a misnomer if I say the awareness is not there. Irrespective of the size and the number of people all the factory owners must adopt safety as the integral aspect at all the stages of design, procurement, installation and operations which will eventually reduce the accidental risks and offer work friendly environment.