British Safety Council - India

In our ‘Safety Bytes’ series, Irwin & Colton meet Mike Robinson, CEO of the British Safety Council. As the British Safety Council continues to expand globally, Irwin & Colton ask: Why the British Safety Council has decided to launch in India? How to have an impact on health & safety in India, a country of 1.3bn people? What impact has the Rana Plaza disaster had on health and safety in the Indian sub-continent?

Why has the British Safety Council launched in India?

The British Safety Council have decided to launch in India for a number of reasons. The first is that we've actually been doing business in India for over 30 years. But doing it on an export model basis means that we can only deal with a very small number of some of the largest customers. The Tatas, Reliance, GVK. Having our own local operation in India will give us a much greater reach and allow us to get to be able to support a much larger number of companies.

And that's important because India as a country has not a very good health and safety record. It may be a country that's trying to put men into space, but it also has 400 million of the world's poorest workers working in some of the worst conditions. So putting those two facts together really is why we are looking to set up a local operation in India.

Why specifically India?

India specifically because the state of legislation in India means that a lot of workers aren't protected. And that's resulted in some quite shocking statistics in that there are probably-- it's estimated 48,000 deaths a year in India in the workplace. And from a population of half a billion workers, that's roughly one in 11,000 workers have a fatality. Now compared to the UK, that's over 20 times the figure. And therefore we think that we can add a lot of value in that market and have an impact and help reduce that rate of fatalities.

Impact of the Rana Plaza disaster on safety in the region?

Rana Plaza was a tragic, tragic event. Over 1,100 people killed. A building collapse. An eight floor building that had only been permitted to be five stories, and three stories had been added illegally. Built on a swamp without adequate safety procedures and even when cracks have been spotted the day before in the building. Whereas the staff in the retail stores obviously didn't go back to work the following days, the factory workers did. They were threatened with a months paid deduction if they didn't go to work. And they did go to work and the building collapsed.

Now it has had a transformational effect in terms of, I think, how the world looks at developing countries. Especially in the garment sector. They were all garment factories within Rana Plaza. And the Accord that was put together which brought the businesses in the developed world, the unions together with the local factories, has had an impact.

However, not the level of impact that is really needed. And just to explain a little more what I mean about that. The original Accord only covered about half of the factories. About half of the 4 and 1/2 million workers who work in that industry. There is a new Accord that is being signed as we speak which will cover more of the sector. But as a result, although 75% of garment factories have improved their safety, only a few hundred of the 4 and 1/2 thousand have been certified as safe.

Now partly that is because there simply aren't enough inspectors, although 350 more inspectors have been recruited. And the program is estimated to have cost nearly 300 million dollars. That's what's being put into improving safety. But it is still simply not enough. And to give you an example of that, only last week there was a boiler explosion at a garment factory in Dhaka. Only 13 people died which is fortunate because the factory was empty. It was having some maintenance at the time. 6,000 workers normally work at that factory.

And that building had been inspected under the Accord. It had been inspected twice but not for boiler explosions. So the Accord, it was focused on fire and building safety and yes, there have been improvements there. But overall, if you look at worker safety more generally, there are still very, very significant issues in the garment industry and in the whole of the Indian subcontinent.

What will the British Safety Council bring to India?

So what we've learned over the years I think fundamentally, is that it's really about people. It's not about legislation. However, when you look at the standard of legislation in some of these markets it is what has to underpin everything else. So the legislation is important but once that legislation is in place, then adherence to it will only get you a certain way. It then really is about people. It's about leadership. It's about engagement. And it's about culture. That is probably the biggest thing we've learned working in the UK for the last 60 years and what we want to bring to the Indian subcontinent.

1.3 billion people, where do you start?

I think you start with the largest businesses. That is what we've already started to do. And that's for a number of reasons. You can have the greatest impact [INAUDIBLE] by dealing with one company you're obviously covering a larger percentage of those workers. But it's also the effect of the supply chain. Particularly in a sector like construction where you have the large contractors subcontracting who subcontract again. Until you get down to the self-employed. So working with those largest companies it means through that supply chain you can reach the largest number of people in the shortest possible time.

What have you achieved so far in the region?

We've educated many, many thousands of people. We've provided audit services to a range of companies. Probably 30 or 40 over just the last 12 months. And I think we have already started to see improvements in the standard of health and safety in those organizations that we've supported. So up to this point, we've had good success. What we need to do is get to be able to support many, many more companies which we'll be able to do once we have a local operation there.

Celebrating their 60th anniversary, The British Safety Council is dedicated to making sure no-one is injured or made ill at work. The Council was founded in 1957 by James Tye, who was a pioneering campaigner who helped to transform the British way of life. His efforts led directly to the ground-breaking 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, as well as the introduction of car seat belts.

Safety Bytes’ is a video series with leaders from across the health and safety space. The series is released by Irwin & Colton, a specialist health, safety and environment recruitment company. For more information contact Irwin & Colton’s Director James Irwin on or 01923 432 632.

Posted on Monday Jun 8