Workplace security within everyone’s interests
By Amanda Horner
A fireworks factory in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India, caught fire on Wednesday, Sept. 5th, killing 40 people and injuring at least 60 others. Reports from India said the blaze could be seen from over a mile away, and the fire spread to 40 of the 60 rooms in the Om Siva Shakti factory — one of the largest in India. Ultimately, the factory burned to the ground. Hindu festivities frequently call for large amounts of fireworks in their celebrations; weddings and religious festivals are two examples, including the upcoming Diwali holiday in mid-November. India also exports these goods to nearby Asian countries. Therefore, India is no stranger to the production and storage of large amounts of fireworks.
Although Indian police have said the direct cause of the fire is unknown, reports say it may have been caused by untrained workers mixing chemicals incorrectly. Local news sources reported this factory had its license to operate legally suspended the day before the fire occurred for large breaches in safety regulations. Twelve people, including the factory operator have been arrested by police and detained in connection to the incident as of Thursday. The parties responsible are being charged with culpable homicide. Police are still in search of the factory’s owner, who is hiding in an attempt to escape justice.
Sadly, this devastating incident is not isolated. Small accidents in this famous firework factory district frequently occur, and in July of 2005, at least 20 people were killed in another incident. A nurse in a nearby hospital told reporters, “We have already registered 40 injured patients, but we expect the numbers to keep going up. We have very limited accommodation here for patients. Already, our burns ward is full.”
The lack of safety regulations and occupational health in Tamil Nadu is the direct result of numerous factors, one of which is a lack of government interest in the safety of its citizens. This is not to say governments are always malicious in this respect, but incompetence plays a definite role. Governments in many developing nations — and even some developed ones too — see occupational health as a luxury, not a factor proven to increase productivity in the labor force. The law must evolve to punish delinquent employers more severely, be more strictly enforced with heavy fines to managers who do not operate under these guidelines and to close factories not meeting these regulations.
Businesses’ social responsibility extends beyond the borders of India; governments and firms everywhere must turn an attentive eye toward workplace safety hazards in efforts to create a safer environment. Humans are endowed with incredible intellectual faculties — a rational capacity that distinguishes us from other creatures, but more importantly, allows for the capacity of compassion and sense of responsibility towards persons. We are not only capable of speaking out against the inequality plaguing many people – including factory workers who are subjected to poor, dangerous working conditions at the hands of irresponsible management and a lack of protective legislation – we are also responsible for insuring these incidents do not repeat themselves.