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Message-ID: <199902150028.TAA21531@atlas.pathcom.com>
Date: Sun, 14 Feb 1999 19:28:09 -0500
Reply-To: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
From: Tom Patterson <tom@QUEERNET.ORG>
Subject: India/health and safety/chemicals/ICS

Health and safety

By Thakorbhai Shah and Ramkilesh Saroj,
International Viewpoint, 14 feb 1999

Labour inspectors have failed to enforce minimum health and safety regulations in the chemical sector. Workers at one Gujarat factory have taken matters into their own hands

Hema Chemicals in Baroda makes potassium and sodium bichromate, chromium sulphate, and other chromium based chemicals. Chromium is a metal used widely in alloy and metal plating, its various salts have wide application in industry. Chromium chemicals are used in wood preservatives, coloured glass, glaze, tanneries, textile dyes, pigments for lithography, and other uses.

The manufacturing process for Sodium and Potassium Bichromate consist of crushing chromate ore into small pieces. The ore is then mixed with soda ash or lime and roasted at 1100 to 1200 degrees celcius. The metal is then cooled, and bichromate is extracted.

The health damage at the Hema plant is terrifying. A doctor working for the Factory Inspector's office identified 43 workers suffering from Nasal Septum perforation and 23 suffer from contact and sensitising dermatitis. Two workers have had their toes amputated following secondary infection of ulcers, and gangrene. One of them also suffers from Hydronephritis due to calculus in the kidneys and gallbladder.

The hazards of chromium are well known. Hexavalent chromium mainly attacks the upper respiratory tract, including nose, pharynx, and lungs. It may cause pulmonary oedema, damage kidney, form dental carry, stomach pain, and skin sensitisation. It causes allergic or sensitising dermatitis. It is also known to cause lung cancer, deep and slow healing ulcers, on the skin and in the nose. Teeth become discoloured. Eardrums perforate. Chromic acid mist causes toxic jaundice, liver damage, and lung fibrosis. Even the small amounts of chromium in many oils have been linked to health problems among automobile, and diesel locomotive repair workers.

Hema clearly violates Indian and Gujarat legislation The technology employed by the management is highly unsafe. And the management is known for its callousness regarding safety. In one of the units owned by by same company, Ushma Chemical in Nandesari, four workers died in an explosion in December 1996 .

After good deal of efforts, by the Union, the Factories Inspectorate have filed number of complaints, against this Company for violation of various provisions of Factory Act, 1948. But the health authorities have failed to give proper diagnosis and guidance, thus preventing the workers from making a compensation claim. There has still been no comprehensive medical examination of the work force.

Months before the strike, the English-language Indian Express condemned "the utterly inhuman responses of an employer and the Gujarat government machinery to the continuous exposure of workers to hazardous chemicals. To the proprietor of Hema Chemicals, conditions in his unventilated factory outsides Vadodara are no worse than what is produced by vehicular pollution on Indian roads. Judging by it performance, the Factory Inspectorate agrees. Emission levels within the factory have not been measured even though the Inspectorate's own medical officer certified an incriminatingly high incidence of case of the factory's 250 workers. The workers themselves report gangrene and lung and kidney ailments as well.

"The normal response in such a situation would be to shut down the factory until the working environment was brought into conformity with legal standards. But who is going to do that? Government agencies are not made accountable to anyone. Proprietors will remain indifferent as long as regulations are not enforced and unions are ineffective.

"So, as long as there are more poor, illiterate people outside the factory gate looking for job, those inside will be treated as expendable, as a subhuman species for whom no one need take responsibility" (15 July 1998).

The strike finally started on 11 December 1998, after management cut wages, despite a court injunction.. But the struggle will determine the wider question of whether Gujarat state will enforce legislation on health and safety at work.

Protest letters can be sent to the Chief Minister of Gujarat [Fax: +91-2712-22101], The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commissions [+91-11-3340016 or 3366537] and the Hema Chemical Industries [Fax: +91-265-380129]. Please send a copy to the trade union. Donations are also requested to sustain the strike and for urgent medical treatment. Contributions should be sent to the "Vadodara Kamdar Union," 101, Shree Krishna Apartment No. 2, Opp. Kothi Police Parade Ground, Raopura, Vadodara 390 001, Gujarat, India. Phone/Fax: +91-265-412499/412224.

The authors of this article can also be reached by E-mail:

International Viewpoint * Inprecor * Inprekorr
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