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
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
PO Box 27410, London SW9 9WQ, Britain
Fax +33-01 43 79 29 61
URL (1): <www.internationalen.se/sp/ivp.htm
URL (2): <come.to/international-viewpoint
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