The Chief Minister’s Inspection Team (CMIT) has recommended that the government amend three laws that deal with occupational health and workers’ safety to make them more effective.
These are the Environmental Protection Act 2012, the Factories Act 1934 and the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923. The team has suggested that environmental offences be declared “heinous” crime and be dealt as “cognizable” offences. It has also been proposed that it be made mandatory for factory owners of hazardous units to provide health cover for their employees.
The recommendations are part of a report submitted by the team after an inquiry into the deaths of 34 stone grinding factory workers in Dera Ghazi Khan. The workers belonging to Nangar village had died in 2011.
The inquiry was ordered a couple of months ago after MNA Sardar Muhammad Jafar Khan Leghari moved an application, asking that the deaths of the workers be investigated.
The five-member committee has confirmed that the workers had died of lung diseases. According to the committee’s findings, another 134 workers – working at the eight DG Khan factories – suffer from various lung diseases including tuberculosis and silicosis.
The committee found that the suspended particulate matter (SPM) at these factories ranged between 3,400-4,000 mg/Nm3 compared to the prescribed National Environmental Quality Standard (NEQS) of 500 mg/Nm3. High levels of silica and other hazardous materials were found in the air.
The factories, says the report, had not registered with the Labour Department or the Punjab Employees Social Security Institution, a Labour Department body, which provides healthcare to factory workers.
The committee noted that though the Punjab government had lifted a ban imposed on factory inspections in February, the Punjab Employees Social Security Institution and the Labour Department had not conducted any surveys to identify unregistered factories. This allowed the unregistered factories’ owners to avoid meeting their responsibilities. The Labour Department, says the report, should take action against the delinquent officials.
The team also surveyed factories near Lahore and found that 12 such stone grinding units were operating on the Lahore-Sheikhupura Road, 10 in other areas in the district and 12 in Gujranwala.
The lives of the factory workers are at risk and the matter needs the government’s immediate attention, the report warned. It is proposed that the Health Department should be directed to make special arrangements (like conducting medical exams at their homes) for the Nangar factory workers so they can receive timely medical treatment.
The committee has observed that the existing laws are not effective and need to be reviewed. It notes that the Factories Act 1923 does not contain provisions to discourage dust accumulation at factories and the Environmental Protection Act 2012 gives no enforcement powers to inspectors.
The CMIT has suggested that till such time that the laws are strengthened, district coordination officers be directed to conduct survey of factories operating in their jurisdiction and ensure that safety and environment control measures are followed. Those who do not, says the report, should be dealt according to the law. It warns of more deaths if the recommendations aren’t followed.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2012.