A new report from India’s automobile hub outside Delhi authoritatively establishes what we had reported in 2014: an unconscionably large number of workers in companies manufacturing auto-components are losing their hands and fingers in completely avoidable accidents.
How large is this number?
Safe in India, the non-profit organisation which produced this report, documented 1,369 accidents in the auto industry in Gurgaon since December 2016. It helped the workers access healthcare through the government-run Employees State Insurance Corporation. It also analysed the data on these accidents.
Here is what they found.
1. Most workers lost their fingers and hands permanently
Nearly half the accidents took place on machines called power presses, which cut, shape or mould metal by ramming it with a heavy piston-like arm. In nine out of ten such accidents, which are known as “crush injuries”, workers lost their fingers or hands.
2. Most accidents took place because safety mechanisms were not working
Often, machines did not have safety sensors or these had been disabled to allow for faster production. The report says: “The root cause of these accidents is the relentless chase for high production at lowest possible cost, irrespective of risks to human life and limb.”
3. Most workers are young migrants with no bargaining power
Under law, at the time of hiring a worker, companies must enrol them in the Employees State Insurance Corporation and give them their ESIC card. But in 67% of the cases, the injured workers did not have their card at the time of the accident. They were taken to private hospitals and not the ESIC hospitals where they would have received better care.
Many of them reported loss of jobs after the accident.
4. The accidents took place in factories supplying parts to large automobile companies
Automobile companies called “Original Equipment Manufacturers” or OEMs outsource the production of car and two-wheeler parts to other factories. The accidents have been reported from such auto-component factories. They are part of the supply chain of large companies like Maruti Suzuki Limited, Honda Motor Company and Hero Motocorp Ltd.
The report calls them “the most influential stakeholders” on whom the responsibility rests to ensure the factories in their supply chains comply with safety standards. It recommends that they create an accident data-sharing platform which would help in the identification of habitual offenders – factories that report frequent accidents because of compromised safety on the shop floor. This would enable the purchasing departments of the automobile companies to incentivise safety practices by giving more contracts and better prices to safer suppliers.
Safe in India presented their report to the three automobile companies, which did not contest its findings. The company officials agreed that the problem of accidents needed to be addressed.
The question is will they?
“We have had an encouraging start in our discussions with Maruti-Suzuki which has started taking safety related actions in its supply chain,” said Sandeep Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive officer of Safe in India Foundation. “We are now waiting for Honda and Hero to follow their lead.”
The non-profit also presented its report to the Labour Ministry, which held a meeting on August 21 with industry representatives. Sachdeva said there was an agreement at the meeting to take steps to improve safety in the auto-sector factories.
While the government has a role to play, Sachdeva emphasised that “according to the National Guidelines for Responsible Business Conduct, businesses are responsible for human rights and safety in their value chain.”
If the automobile companies could work together in Gurgaon, “we could have economies of scale in reducing these accidents quicker and set a model for other auto-hubs in the country,” he said.