Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Regulations Improve: Industry Keeps Running

On Friday August 29, Dr. Gupta offered to take us to an old stone crushing site in Delhi. We met him at the hospital at 10 AM and off we went in a lovely air conditioned car. As we drove I was able to pick Dr. Gupta's brain a little more which was awesome. We talked about unorganized work sectors where employees were exposed to high levels of silica. He spoke about the importance of awareness of hazards in the workplace . A huge challenge he faces is illiteracy within these communities.

When asked what he thought the best solution to these problems was he focused on alleviation of poverty. He spoke about the drawbacks of free trade and how technology from the developed world comes to India without the transfer of education to the workforce. As these industries move into emerging economies we must ensure workers are aware of the hazards within the workplace.

While trade unions are an option for the unorganized workforce, there are only a few trade unions in India such as the CITU (Communist Indian Trade Union) and the SITU (Socialist Indian Trade Union). These trade unions are very political and have vested interests that are not necessarily best for the workers. These unions are also largely influenced by employers.

Dr. Gupta told us an interesting story about a trade union that worked with a factory that manufactured radios and televisions using old vacuum tube technology. The trade union was giving workers a glass of milk every day and saying that this would help with metal poisoning. In fact, milk does not help with metal poisoning. Dr. TK Joshi told them this and said that if they were going to distribute something an apple would at least be more nutritious and helpful to the workers. When he tried to work with the employees to get this change done the workers just preferred the extra five Indian Rupees (around 13 cents) a day the apple would cost and consequently both programs were canceled. Often when workers are made to understand the hazards they are working with they just want more money rather than safer conditions.

Dr. Gupta told us of his appointment to a panel of five experts to look into possible mercury poisoning at a plant. He found gross negligence there. The expert panel could not prove that the illnesses the workers were facing were the direct cause of mercury. Dr. Gupta fought that they could not prove that the mercury poisoning DID NOT come from mercury poisoning. This discussion was of particular interest to me given my experience with expert witnesses in toxic tort cases.

We arrived at the old stone crushing mine to find a very impoverished community. Dr. Gupta showed us around and it was amazing to be right next to something I had read so much about and seen so many pictures of. The people in the community seemed very interested in our presence and Dr. Gupta was even approached by someone who recognized him from his work in the field there.

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