Posted on: November 2017

One can take the horse to the water but making it drink is another story; it certainly is so with safety in the workplace in the Indian scheme of things, especially in the ECA space.

“The most important problem is the absence of top management engagement with safety practices, which tend to begin and end with personal protection issues,” points out A. K. Kulkarni, Trainer with the National Safety Council India.

Considering that safety is first a matter of human lives and then a matter of profits, it is important that safety management and practices be absolutely integrated with all general management and operational aspects of running a small business, in particular. This is not a message that has permeated down the Indian workspace. India ranks second when it comes to workplace accidents and illnesses.

In fact, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that globally, every 15 seconds, 153 workers meet with an accident at the workplace. The ECA space is particularly vulnerable; more so in India; and doubly so because the ECAs are gearing up to become the backbone of the Make in India mission.

In a report on safety, “The future of health and safety; Moving Beyond Zero”, Ernst & Young emphasized that safety should be viewed as an outcome of business culture and strategy rather than a process. This means that the language around health and safety should change to drive powerful conversations in an ambience in which the employee is considered to be the solution, not the cause of an indifferent safety culture.

The report exhorts managements to “give employees the power and opportunity to be part of the process; be open to making mistakes and learning from those mistakes; think creatively and be open to new ideas; make the connections between health and safety, and productivity and efficiency”. Essentially the need is to embed health and safety in strategic leadership thinking in an atmosphere that establishes trust.

It is conceded that ECA owners who do not have the benefit of large establishments often have work overload making it difficult even to deal with core issues and safety tends to get relegated to the non-core space. “Key factors affecting safety management in ECAs have been identified as: low level of management and training skills, lack of resources, burden of compliance with regulations and codes, etc., poor relationship with regulatory agencies, cost of using OHS consultants, dependency on large businesses and, difficulties in implementing and understanding good safety practices”, point out L. Stephen, K. B. Olsen, S. L. Ian and P. Hasle. What applies to the global scene applies to India as well.

Two important drivers of safety in Indian companies “would be involvement of the top management and focused site-specific safety measures”, says A.K. Kulkarni. First there is the paramount need to “make safety audits mandatory but it is even more important for the top management to receive the audit report and pursue it seriously. “

There is also the need for training programmes but everything falls through for want of implementation. “This happens because safety is relegated to the middle management and even when safety audits are conducted by the National Safety Council, there is little follow up. Training programmes and safety audits are not magic wands,” says Kulkarni.

They are just the first steps in driving a safety culture. Such a culture is violated when, even when one is handling material mechanically with a crane but there is a group of workers standing just below the lifted load.

The World Economic Forum provides six elementary but key areas for health, safety and wellness:

1. Creating an organizational leadership structure that fosters a culture passionate about health, safety and wellness

Ultimately an organization’s culture should ensure that its workers go home safe and healthy, while also satisfied from a good day’s work and proud of what they have achieved. To assure physical well-being, there can only be a zero-tolerance approach with respect to occupational health and safety issues.

The key is to set the right example: an organization’s leadership has to demonstrate that no single job is worth a loss of life, injury or disease. They have to place key values – such as empathy, respect and ethical communication – at the centre of the organization, while creating an environment of trust and integrity, perhaps via a clear, effective and enforced code of conduct.

2. Establishing governance, engagement and dialogue for health, safety and wellness awareness

It is important to establish a governance and engagement protocol, with open collaboration between employer and workers to discuss and address problems, and proactively channel grievances. By asking workers to engage in steering committees, action teams and observation teams, they will not only identify and prevent hazards, but will generate a feeling of a protective organization.

3. Well-being through advanced technology

While there are many possible implications of new technology for labour, with respect to safety and health it is possible to anticipate a number of opportunities. Advanced technologies could indeed increase worker wellness by removing work hazards and easing physical exertion.

In the context of elderly workers, these technologies could include a so-called “super-strength operator”, where a human being wears a powered, flexible and mobile exoskeleton. Other examples of human-machine interfaces are: augmented and virtual operators; healthy operators, such as wearable health sensors and trackers; smart operators connected to intelligent personal assistants (IPA); collaborative operators, who train and work with collaborative robots; social operators, who tap into a business's online networking services; as well as analytical operators, who use big data analytics.

As these advances in technology continue, there are already innovations that can be applied today, allowing workers to not only remove or protect themselves from hazardous circumstances, but also to potentially become more efficient. All construction industries have the opportunity to advance the use of technology and, as a result, make workforce engagement safer.

4. Well-being through stability and security

The right to social security is recognized as a human right reflected in the societal commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each state, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”

To ensure the well-being of an organization’s labour force, it is paramount to address the stability and security challenges presented by an ageing society, as well as the emerging consequences of digital and technological progress, in a sustainable way. Innovative approaches that promote inclusive growth, reduce income inequality, introduce alternative security models (basic income, for example) will ensure that future employment will contribute substantially to the well-being of humanity.

5. Well-being through professional development

There is a mutual reinforcement between professional development, on the one side; and safety and health, on the other. It is important that safety and health is included as an integral part of training schemes throughout professional careers. At the same time, improved safety and health will help companies attract talent.

To be successful in attracting the right talent, offering flexibility and a sufficient work-life balance are essential.

6. Specific actions for ensuring mental and emotional well-being

We often underestimate the importance of psychological and emotional health in the workplace. Mental and emotional well-being is essential to overall health: positive mental health allows people to realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

The employer can proactively contribute by providing the necessary work-life balance, creating an empathetic organizational culture, offering stress-reduction programmes and implementing anti-harassment policies