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Just another accident in the Auto Sector Supply Chain? How many is too many?

(The following blog is based on on-the-ground reports and news articles. Facts are being investigated by the government agencies and we will update as we learn) 


On the evening of March 16, 2024, at around 5.45 pm, there was a blast in an auto ancillary manufacturing factory, Lifelong Private Limited in Dharuhera, District 'Rewari', Haryana. The company makes auto parts from pressure die casting components, air cleaners, plastic injections and other assemblies. 



Around 60 workers in the buffering department working at that point in time were hurt by the blast, over 15 of them severely. Most of the workers of the over 1000, reportedly working there, had left for the day or were leaving, making the timing of the blast a big mercy.  



As this blog gets written on 23rd evening, 11 of these 60 are already dead and the real cause of the accident is still being debated, and no one arrested yet. This is the norm not the exception. 







Is safety and maintenance only for books? Policy and Implementation gap:


From what we have found on the ground, having met a few of the workers, and from media reports, the dust collector either caught a spark or was so full that it overheated, causing it to explode. 

The workers claim it hadn’t been cleaned in months, while the management claims it was cleaned in January or February.  


A worker who has been working there for the last five years says that the pipes were cleaned once a year, and that too very casually and that maintenance was, in general, poor.


Well-run factories, we are advised, clean the dust collectors every week.




Why were previous similar incidents not taken seriously by the management? 

There are also reports that a similar incident happened in this factory once in July 2022, but it was quickly brought under control with no injuries to anyone.


In April 2023 too, the entire dust collector had fallen and fortunately again no one was hurt. The Management appears to have denied that these accidents ever happened. 


Workers told us that whenever there was an audit, they were sent out of the plant,

auditors did not talk/meet with any worker,

and that production was usually stopped on some line or the other to minimize the dust so that the auditor could not see much dust on the floor. 


Why were these workers not provided with legally required working conditions? 

Media reports indicate that workers complained of 12-hour shifts with one lunch break and no other breaks, no weekly offs, extreme production pressure as harsh targets needed to be met, got bare minimum as safety gear viz. gloves and masks, which melted into their skin when the fire spread.


Indian law dictates maximum 48 hours per week, payment of overtime at twice the rate (Were they paid that? We doubt it based on our 5,000+ injured worker assistance experience), maximum 6 day a week, and safety gear as per the Factory Act (we would bet they were not provided the legal minimum) 


Workers also claim the factory was not well laid out with the legally required ample space and that the emergency exits were blocked and not accessible.  

 

The doctors at the Sir Shadi Lal Civil Hospital commented that most of the workers were not wearing appropriate standard uniforms and that had exacerbated the problem as the clothes got burnt onto their skin.   


Many of the workers had serious respiratory issues, having inhaled harmful gases and overall, the lack of safety practices was evident. 


We have been highlighting these issues to the automobile brands who buy from such factories and the goverment for 5+ years. 

SII in its fifth annual report of the CRUSHED series, released on November 26th 2023, had highlighted all these issues once again.


These reports have been providing evidence about the poor working conditions, poorly maintained and safeguarded machinery, poor training and high production pressure in the deeper supply chain of the auto sector since 2016.


This event only shows that our attempts at catalyzing change in the sector cannot stop and minimizing such accidents needs to continue to be our focus until the automobile brands take their reposonsibility for their supply chain as required under Indian governments's National Guidelines of Responsible Business Conduct (NGRBC).  


 



Our blog and the report can be accessed here: CRUSHED 2023 Released! Fifth edition - Seven years of reporting - 5000+ injured workers (safeinindia.org) This report evidence of thousands of workers losing their fingers in the top 10 automobile brands.



Why were these burnt workers not immediately in ESIC hospitals? 

Any establishment with more than 10 staff should be ESIC registered, and all workers should get their ESIC card on the day of joining. 


When our team asked some of these workers if they were registered under ESIC, most had no idea what that was. It is not a coincidence that the ESIC hospitals were not the first or next point of treatment either.  


Increasing awareness about ESIC, enforcing factory owners/contractors registering their workers under the scheme and improving the facilities in the ESIC hospitals and bringing in strategic improvements to make the access and the process of getting benefits more worker friendly remains one of SII’s key objectives.



The Rana Plaza incident with 1,000+ lost lives in a factory fire got Bangladesh to wake up.

Are 40 burnt workers with 11 dead not enough for us to do what is right and overdue? 

 

We have always believed that India should not need a Rana Plaza kind of an event for the top automobile brands to take steps to prevent the hundreds of injuries taking place in the Auto Sector in India. The time to start taking action is today, if not yesterday.   


To that end, we have been studying the policies of the top 10 Auto Brands in India and recommending changes that would lead to their monitoring their entire supply chain for the OSH standards and bring in the high standards their own factories, have to their vendors’ factories too.



What will automobile brands buying from this factory do for such poorly run factories in their supply chain? 


We accessed the Lifelong Private Limited’s website on 23rd March 2024 at 5 pm. A few screenshots are below. They claim to supply to Hero Motors, one of the top 10 brands in India (this has also been covered in the media). We have now assisted 500+ injured workers in Hero's supply chain.



Their clients and management are listed boldly. Yet, the workers are the only ones running pillar to post to funerals, currently. It need not be this way.


Good OSH policies including worker welfare and a professionally well-run organizations are not antithetical to making profits or improving profitability or increasing labor productivity.


Poor OSH policies suppress innovations, global competitiveness and convert our demographic dividend into a disaster. It is a national loss of humanity, of labour productivity, of professionalism on our manufacturing. that we all need to take seriously. 

 

What will the government investigation reveal? 


Haryana government has set up a magisterial probe and we look forward to their findings, recommendations and actions. 



We also hope that Haryana Human Rights Commission, which had filed a suo moto against three automobile brands in 2019, based on our reports, takes cognizance of this event, and progresses the case expeditiously.  


Haryana state has been reporting c.50 worker accidents every year in the past 10+ years we have monitored. The truth is 1,000+ as we have been reporting. We hope that this incident makes the government improve the reporting system for worker accidents/injuries. What gets measured, gets done, as all managers know well.

(30th March update: Times of India has reported that the magisterial probe failed to find causes of the blast and lapses - if any - on the part of the management of Lifelong Pvt Ltd and that government is planning to set up a committee of experts from across the country)


What can you do? 


We urge you to share this blog with anyone you know in the automobile sector and ask them a simple question:  How is it that one of the largest and most profitable manufacturing sectors in the country, not ensuring that their suppliers are abiding by law, not only risking lives and livelihoods, but also holding back India’s progress? 


Please feel free to provide any feedback/questions at team@safeinindia.org 

 

 

References: 


 

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