Human Rights Analysis
Health standards in factories: Myth or reality
Barrister Md. Abdul Halim
The main law dealing with the health and safety conditions in factories is the Factories Act 1965. Apart from safety matters there are some health conditions prescribed by this legislation which are hardly followed by owners of factories. The Factories Act has given much accent to maintaining the physical fitness and welfare of the workers by requiring certain minimum standards of occupiers to keep factories clean and free from effluvia arising from drain, privy or refuse in and around the factory premises. Detailed provisions are inserted in the Act to keep inside and outside the factories clean and safe. The principal rules relating to health and hygiene are as follows:
A. Cleanliness: Section 12 provides that:
(i) Every factory shall be kept clean and free from effluvia arising from any drain, privy or other nuisance;
(ii) The accumulation of dirt and refuge shall be moved daily by sweeping or by any other effective method;
(iii) The floor of every work-room shall be cleaned at least once in every week by washing, using disinfectant where necessary or by some other effective method;
(iv) All inside walls and partitions, all ceilings, or tops of rooms, and walls, side and tops or passages and staircases shall be repainted or revarnished at least once in every five years;
(v) Where walls are painted or varnished and have smooth impervious surfaces, they shall be cleaned at least once in every fourteen months;
(vi) In any other case, they shall be kept white-washed or colour-washed and the white-washing or colour-washing shall be carried out at least once in every fourteen months.
B. Disposal of wastes and effluents: Section 13 provides that effective arrangements shall be made in every factory for the disposal of wastes and effluents due to the manufacturing process carried on therein;
C. Ventilation and temperature: Section 14 provides:
(i) Every occupier shall take effective and suitable measures for securing and maintaining in every work-room adequate ventilation by circulation of fresh air;
(ii) Such temperature will be maintained as will secure to workers therein reasonable conditions of comfort and prevent injury to health;
(iii) The walls and roofs shall be of such material and so designed that temperature shall not be exceeded but kept as low as practicable;
(iv) Where the nature of the work carried on in the factory involves, or is likely to involve, the production of excessively high temperature, such adequate measures as are practicable, shall be taken to protect the workers there by separating the process which produces such temperature from the work-room by insulating the hot parts or by other effective means.
D. Dust and fume: Section 15 provides:
(i) Dust, fume or other impurity which is injurious or offensive to the workers arising due to the manufacturing process must be diverted by effective measures so as to prevent dust inhalation and accumulation in any workroom;
(ii) Exhaust appliance or other safeguards must be used for this.
E. Artificial humidification: Section 16 provides:
(i) In any factory in which the humidity of the air is artificially increased, the water used for the purpose shall be taken from a public supply, or other source of drinking water, or shall be effectively purified before it is so used.
(ii) If it appears to an Inspector that the water used in a factory for increasing humidity which is required to be effectively purified is not effectively purified, he may serve on the manager of the factory an order in writing, specifying the measures which, in his opinion, should be adopted, and requiring them to be carried out before a specified date.
F. Overcrowding: Section 17 provides:
(i) No work-room in any factory shall be overcrowded to an extent injurious to the health of the workers employed therein.
(ii) There shall be provided for every worker employed in a work-room at least five hundred cubic feet of space in the case of a factory built after the commencement of this Act.
G. Lighting: Section 18 provides:
(i) In every part of a factory where workers are working or passing through, there shall be provided and maintained sufficient and suitable lighting, natural or artificial, or both.
(ii) In every factory all glazed windows and skylights used for the lighting of the work-room shall be kept clean on both the outer and inner surfaces and free from obstruction as far as possible.
(iii) In every factory effective provisions shall be made for the prevention of glare either directly from any source of light or by reflection from a polished surface etc.
H. Drinking water: Section 19 provides:
(i) In every factory effective arrangement shall be made to provide and maintain at a suitable point conveniently situated for all workers employed therein, a sufficient supply of wholesome drinking water.
(ii) All such points shall be legibly marked "Drinking Water" in a language understood by the majority of the workers.
(iii) No such point shall be situated within twenty feet of any washing place, urinal or latrine, unless a shorter distance is approved in writing by the Chief Inspector.
(iv) In every factory wherein more than 250 workers are ordinarily employed, provision shall be made for cooling the drinking water during the hot weather.
I. Latrines and urinals: Section 20 provides that in every factory--
(i) Sufficient latrines and urinals of prescribed types shall be provided conveniently situated for and accessible to workers at all times while they are in the factory;
(ii) Enclosed latrines and urinals shall be provided separately for male and female workers;
(iii) Such latrines and urinals shall be adequately lighted and ventilated and no latrine or urinal shall, unless specially exempted in writing by the Chief Inspector, communicate with any work-room except through an intervening open space or ventilated passage;
(iv) All such latrines and urinals shall be maintained clean and sanitary or disinfectant or both;
(v) The floors and internal walls of the latrines and urinals and the sanitary blocks shall, up to a height of there feet, be finished to provide a smooth polished impervious surface.
Penalties: In order to protect the interest of workers in factories, both the occupier and manager of a factory are jointly and severally liable to a fine for an offence under the Act. Under section 93 any contravention by the occupier or manager of any provision of the Act or Rules would expose them to penalty of fine which may extend to taka one thousand and, if the contravention is continued after conviction, with a further fine which may extend to Taka seventy-five for each day of the period over which the contravention continues.
It is to be noted that the general penalty remains with an offence punishable with fine only and the amount of the fine is so meagre that every manager and owner of a factory can easily flout the whole provision. Secondly, the Act does not make any provision for imprisonment in case of contravention of the provisions. In India there is a provision of imprisonment up to two years as general punishment. Thus the provisions of this Act are toothless to frighten employer-cum-owners and managers to ensure safety measures in factory.
Conclusion: In view of recent repeated accidents in various factories, the above Factories Act, 1965 needs to be amended so that it conforms to the demand of the modern times. Breach of any of the provisions of the Act should meet with both penal and civil provisions and amount of fine in case of breach of safety and health standards should be raised. Negligence on the part of the authorities under the Act should be subject to penalty also. If an Inspector fails visit factories at a regular interval or makes any faulty report, or does not visit, or fails to prosecute the owner and manager of the factory in case of breach of safety and health standards, the Inspector himself should be rigorously penalised and fined. The real problem lies with the enforcement of the law by the authorities under the Act.
There is inherent lack of checks and balances among government bodies. If some authorities under the Factories Act, 1965 were punished for the incidence of mass killing by fire and stampede due to non-compliance of laws pertaining to safety and security, the authorities would never forget to take care of safety measures which is their responsibility. It is the weakness or lack of enforcement by the authorities which encourages the owners to flout and violate the safety and health standards under the law.
The author is advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.