“Over the past few years, health and safety have emerged as a major workplace issue,” Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) joint director Zulfiqar Shah told The Express Tribune on Friday.
He said the 2012 Baldia fire incident in Karachi and the shoe factory fire in Lahore had revealed the importance of identifying and registering such units. Shah said the shoe factory in Lahore had been functioning in a residential area. He said no measures had been taken to ensure that it adhered with health and safety regulations.
The Labour Department has also taken up the issues of health and safety. The department resumed inspections in 2012. These developments have been complemented by the establishment of the Labour Market Information and Resource Centre in 2011. One of the chief functions of the centre is to computerise the data obtained in inspections and place it online. Labour Market Information and Resource Centre Head Daud Abdullah told The Express Tribune that the department had been able to analyse data collated over a few years despite the paucity of resources. The department had authored a report in 2014 on occupational health and safety problems by comparing data from 2007-2008 with that from 2010 – 2011. The report revealed that nearly 1.71 million people from the province had suffered work-related illnesses and injuries in 2011. The report established a correlation between long working hours and work-related accidents. It concluded that those putting in over 59 hours per week had a greater chance of sustaining work-related injuries than their peers. Working with hazardous equipment and adopting dangerous positions were the chief causes of work-related accidents.
Shah told The Express Tribune that it was highly probable that the actual figure for work-related injuries was even higher as the department had not started conducting independent surveys in this regard during the timeframe. He said the department also had no information regarding the state of workers employed at unregistered factories. Shah said inspections carried out by the department were not comprehensive as it lacked technical staff.
Abdullah said Labour officials carried out routine inspections of the 15,000 factories registered with the department. He said 70 officials had been working at the department, a number too small to ensure that comprehensive inspections were conducted. Abdullah said a computer had been provided in every district of the province and staff had been trained to record data. He said this had allowed the department to analyse data, identify problems and formulate recommendations accordingly.
The Labour Market Information and Resource Centre head said the collated data could be employed to improve workers’ condition in the Punjab. He said the centre had been striving to achieve best results with limited resources. Abdullah said the total cost of the project was Rs65.272 million. He said a sum of Rs15 million had been allocated for it in the annual budget. Shah appreciated the efforts of the department saying lack of proper documentation and data collection were two of the prime reasons impeding the revision of official policies. While he expressed his reservations regarding the figures put forth by the department, he said ensuring regular documentation was a step forward nevertheless. Shah also stressed the importance of ensuring that factory owners complied with department standards by making workers adhere with health and safety regulations.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2015.