Banking, financial services, software companies and companies where fatalities data was not shared were excluded from the BSE Sensex companies list as of March 2017.
Engineering conglomerate Larsen & Toubro (L&T), auto manufacturers Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra, state run miner Coal India, pharmaceutical major Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, port operator Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone, steel maker Tata Steel, consumer products manufacturer ITC are the eight companies whose sustainability reports were referred to in the story.
"ITC has a well-structured approach to safety that is focused on ensuring zero harm for all workers, employees and visitors within our business premises. The number of loss time accidents, of which fatalities are a subset, have reduced significantly, with the total number of employees having tripled,” said Sanjib Bezbaroa, executive vice president and head, corporate environment health and safety, ITC. Six of the eight companies did not share any response beyond what the sustainability report shared as data.
The eight companies in reference are a small sample and also likely to practice the best safety standards in the country.
Data shared by the Ministry of Labour and Employment with the Lok Sabha, pegs the number of fatal injuries at workplace at 1,135 for the year 2016. Of these, Gujarat reported the highest number of fatal injuries at 272 in 2016. The number of non-fatal injuries across India in the same year was at 5,309, according to the ministry.
“If we are to analyse on the safety performance statistics of the top companies and see them performing only average on this front, then the performance of Tier 2 and 3 companies would be even less encouraging,” said Yasir Ahmad, Partner, Sustainability and Responsible Business Advisory for PWC.
“India’s working conditions can definitely improve. We are not world-class by any standards, more importantly such data needs to be periodically studied and there needs to be some impetus from companies to improve this metric. There is scope for improvement and I don’t think it is at the top of the mind for companies or the policy makers,” said Shriram Subramanian, MD at proxy advisory firm InGovern.
With the focus on “Make in India” initiative, Ahmad from PWC points out industrial safety will play an important role. “At a time when we, as a country, are aspiring to become the preferred manufacturing destination of the world, these issues are potential deal breakers and can have a bearing on our economy growth aspirations,” he added.
Of the eight companies, Coal India reported the largest number of fatalities at 56 lives lost in calendar year 2016 and 38 lost in 2015. The labour ministry in the past, in its own admission to the Parliament, had agreed to safety loopholes at certain coal mines in India.
India’s large dependence on contract labour may be another reason leading to industrial safety issues. "Contract labour is a rather fluctuating workforce, and are often less trained and calibrated on the safety aspects. This could perhaps explain the reason why this band of workforce often scores quite low on the safety performance statistics as compared to their permanent counterparts,” Ahmad from PWC added. According to the labour ministry’s response to a parliament question in April 2017, the number of contract labourers employed in central government and public sector undertakings in the central sphere at 1.84 million.