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Why do many supplier factories of auto mobile brands misrepresent facts about work-accidents?: A lost opportunity for improvement in Indian manufacturing.

Factory says its Mahesh's fault but Mahesh says, the machine was faulty: Mahesh, 30, from UP, lost both hands on a power press machine while making parts in a factory of a Gurugram supplier to one of the top 3 car brands in India. The reason mentioned in the Accident Report: “he was working on a press shop machine, and suddenly, he distract from work and got injured in both hands” (sic).

However, the reason reported by Mahesh: "I was hired as a helper (a lower paid unskilled/semi-skilled job), but was asked to operate the machine (a higher paid skilled job). I was taking out pieces from the machine. Suddenly its pressure went down and the die fell on my hands".

This accident was due to mismanagement, not due to Mahesh's fault. Such misrepresentation has been going on for decades. We now have an opportunity now correct these for Making in India responsibly.

In a recent study of Accident Reports, a critical document for the government eg for ESIC and ISH, we have identified 136 cases of employers in the Gurugram and Faridabad auto sector supply chain, falsely reporting the workers’ accidents and injury-related data, thereby not only impeding justice for the injured workers but losing an opportunity to improve working conditions, much needed for improving Indian Labour Productivity and manufacturing professionalism (for more details, please read our latest annual report: CRUSHED2023.

A typical "Accident Form" that needs to be submitted to ESIC for worker to claim eg. Permanent Disability Benefit. Our key findings from this analysis of 136 Accident Forms:

  1. Machine Error or Human Error - Who is telling the truth?: In 50%+ of cases, factories misrepresent the causes of accidents.

In more than half cases, “reason of accident” as reported in the Accident Report is different from what workers advised to SII (Gurugram: 2019-23; Faridabad: 2021-23)

While describing accidents, workers attribute accidents to faults in machinery or occupational safety and health (OSH) conditions, while employers often claim human error as the cause- evading their workers’ safety responsibilities.   In our 6 six years of observations, we know that 90%+ of these machines did not have the legally required safety guards/sensors/etc. By definition, these are machine faults and therefore the factory owners' legal responsibility, which they would rather not record/report.

2.  Time of accidents: In c.50% of cases, factories misrepresent the time of accidents by several hours and many in a completely different shift!

Difference in the time of accident as reported in the Accident Report vs. what workers have advised SII (124 cases from Gurugram- 2019-23; and Faridabad- 2021-23). 

The chart above illustrates the differences in the reported time of accidents between the Accident Reports and information provided by workers to SII. The difference is significant. Misrepresenting shift timings is not uncommon to confuse working hours/overtime/etc. SII is presently investigating the reason(s).

3. Negative Implications for this false reporting for the worker: 

These misrepresentations, while may help employers get away from their responsibilities, are not without harm to the injured worker.  This, often, results in them having to contend with delayed/additional documentation and approvals, if there are conflicting versions presented, undermining the very purpose of ESIC compensation and compromising the rights and well-being of injured workers. 

Our experience is that, on an average, disabled workers are receiving their Permanent Disability Benefits, 9-12 months after their injury, and these inaccurate ARs and related misrepresentations are often the cause for such delays.


4. The issue of false reporting is not only a small factory problem!

65% of the factories that provided false information in Accident Reports were companies with 100 or more employees. The issue of misleading Accident Reports is not confined to small factories; even larger factories engage in such practices.

5. This is a human AND economic loss to India

ILO estimates that c.4% of India's GDP is lost to worker injuries and work-related illnesses. Such reporting misrepresentations may work in the short term for these business owners to avoid their responsibilities to the workers and the government (reporting, penalties, audits, etc), but this small mindedness also stops them from professionalizing their operations for strategic growth that India needs, especially in its fast-growing auto sector, that has an amazing opportunity in the current China+one geopolitics.

6. Worker safety is good for business In May 2022, we conducted a workshop with MoMSME/QCI on how ‘worker safety is good for businesses and many enlightened suppliers in the auto sector stated how it is. Below a video and here is the full blog for those interested in what good business should do for its own long-term growth:

Mr. IV Rao, Ex-director, Maruti Suzuki Centre for Excellence: OSH contributes to improving the quality of the product. He talked about the needs of various stakeholders in the business.

7. So, what should the automobile brands ask their supplier factory owners to do?

Filing the Accident Report requires honesty from the employers. To make this happen:

  1. Establish clear reporting protocols - Develop and communicate clear and straightforward guidelines for reporting accidents. 

  2. Conduct thorough investigations on a case-to-case basis - Ensure that each reported accident undergoes a thorough investigation.

  3. Regular audits and reviews - Conduct periodic internal audits of Accident Reports to identify any discrepancies or patterns of misreporting.

  4. A reporting mechanism for workers to report concealment/misrepresentation of accidents.

Can we all learn from these accidents, based on facts, and improve our factories? In response to our reports, ACMA has started offering free training programmes/workshops on workplace safety which may be useful to these factories. If they are not, please provide us feedback which we will consolidate and present to ACMA for improvements.

We welcome any thoughts/suggestions.

Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas and Make in India responsibly.

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