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At least 6,500 employees have died on duty at factories, ports, mines and construction sites in five years, the Union labour ministry has informed Parliament.

Experts, however, said many deaths go unreported, or may be termed as injuries, if the person dies after two weeks of the accident, and the actual numbers could be higher. International attention is drawn when high casualties are reported, for instance, the gas leak at the LG Polymer plant in Andhra Pradesh, where 12 people were killed last year and at least 585 sustained injuries, they added.

Out of total industrial casualties, 5629 were reported in factory settings, while 549 were reported from mine
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Out of total industrial casualties, 5629 were reported in factory settings, while 549 were reported from mine

According to ministry data, out of the total deaths, 5,629, or over 80%, were reported in factory settings, while 549 deaths were reported from mines, 74 at ports and 237 died in central government jurisdiction (central sphere) construction sites. .

To be sure, the latest data pertaining to factory deaths were between 2014 and 2018, port deaths were during 2015-2019 and mine deaths were collected from 2016 to 2020. The fatalities at construction sites under central sphere were from 2017 to March 2021.

According to the ministry, the reasons behind the ‘occupational deaths’ includes explosion, fire, prime movers, machinery moved by mechanical powers, accident due to motor vehicles at construction site and electrocution, among others. Factory deaths rose by 20% between 2017 and 2018.

A significant number of such deaths were reported from the top industrialized states, including Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. While factory deaths in Maharashtra and Gujarat increased, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab saw fewer deaths during the period. Gujarat accounts for at least 20% of total deaths. In 2018, for instance, 263 factory deaths were reported from Gujarat and 142 from Maharashtra, out of the 1,131 deaths from across India. Likewise, in 2017, of the 969 factory deaths, 229 were from Gujarat and 137 from Maharashtra.

Out of the total fatalities at mines in five years, 111, or almost 20%, were from Jharkhand, followed by Chhattisgarh with 50 deaths.

So far in 2021, 26 deaths were reported at construction sites, compared to 14 in the previous year and 148 in 2019. To be sure, deaths in 2020 were lower because of the covid-19 outbreak, as construction activity came to a standstill during the lockdown.

“The official numbers have certain limitations as some of these sectors like construction fatalities does not have state level data points. The other limitation is if someone gets injured at a factory or a mine, and dies in a hospital or at home after 15-20 days, then in most cases they are tagged as injuries. The occupational health and safety code passed recently had an opportunity to improve safety measures and address the concerns of workers, but I believe, the authorities are removing smaller firms from the purview of the law in certain segments. While finalizing rules such shortcomings should be ironed out," K. R. Shyam Sundar, a labour law expert and professor, XLRI, Jamshedpur, said.

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