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Factory Workers' Accidents: Stories of Survival and Neglect

Unsafe working conditions and systemic neglect plague factory workers in India's industrial sector as they struggle for safety, dignity, and accountability.

By Inderpal Singh and Nihal Kumar
New Update

Factory workers in India are the unsung heroes of the country's industrial sector. Millions work in the shadows of the informal economy, grappling with challenges that range from inadequate wages and precarious job security to a lack of social security and subpar working conditions. But perhaps the most harrowing challenge they face is the risk of accidents in workplaces that often operate on the fringes of legality or with scant regard for safety regulations. These workers, when injured, are frequently left to navigate the consequences on their own.

Unheard Voices: Suchita's Struggle for Justice

Factory worker Suchita Saini
Factory worker Suchita Saini lost her fingers in an accident | Photo courtesy: The Probe

In May 2022, the life of Suchita Saini, a factory worker in Faridabad, was irrevocably altered following a horrific accident. Recounting the day's events, Suchita shares, "I used to operate the press. I was a senior press operator enrolled through an application process. The day my hand was chopped off, I told the foreman that this machine was not working properly and its blocks were loose. He merely told me to use it carefully." Despite Suchita’s warnings, no action was taken and the accident occurred, leading to a devastating injury that would change her life forever.

Suchita's ordeal did not end with the accident. The response of the factory's management to the incident adds insult to injury. "The owner said, 'Take her to Khan to get her treated.' I refused, insisting on going to ESI. They forcefully took me to an unlicensed doctor," Suchita recounts. 

Suchita's story is not just a personal tragedy but a stark example of the broader issues facing factory workers in India. It's a narrative of survival against the odds, battling neglect and fighting for justice in the aftermath of workplace accidents. 

The story of Suchita Saini is not an isolated incident but a reflection of a widespread problem within India's factory settings, where safety measures are often ignored, and workers' well-being is jeopardised. We spoke to numerous victims who, like Suchita, have suffered severe injuries leading to the tragic loss of limbs. The underlying issue is the blatant negligence towards safety protocols in many factories. These workers, often hailing from impoverished backgrounds, find themselves in a vulnerable position when accidents strike, leading to job termination without any form of compensation and a lack of proper medical care.

Suchita shares further details of her harrowing experience, "Ten people's hands were cut off. They are running the machines with makeshift solutions like allen key bolts. After losing one hand, I feared for my other hand and refused to operate another faulty machine. The response? Threats of physical violence from the foreman." Suchita alleges that her attempt to seek justice was met with resistance, bribes, and outright abuse. "Will the law not hear our plea?" Suchita laments. 

The Invisible Employers: A Barrier to Accountability

The investigation into Suchita's case further revealed a disturbing trend: many workers do not know who their actual employer is, making it nearly impossible to hold anyone accountable. Attempts to reach out to Suchita's employers at J.D Tools and Components in Faridabad for comments were met with evasion and denial. A supervisor, Shambhu, defensively stated, "The company never wants its employees to be sad or to meet with an accident." Yet, when pressed for details about the owner or the victims, another employee, Shakti, admitted, "We are working here. We don't even know who the owner is."

Continued Neglect: Neetu, Another Victim of Industrial Apathy

Following Suchita's narrative, we discover Neetu, another factory worker whose life was altered by an accident in 2023. Like Suchita, Neetu's incident highlights the recurring issue of inadequate training and safety protocols in factories. Neetu recalls the day of her accident with clarity, "The owner insisted I operate a machine I was unfamiliar with. He said I would only learn when I use the machine." Despite her protests, she alleges that she was coerced into working with the machine, leading to a severe injury when the equipment malfunctioned and landed on her hand.

Factory worker Neetu
Like Suchita, factory worker Neetu too met with an accident that
resulted in a fatal injury | Photo courtesy: The Probe

Neetu's recount of the events leading to her injury sheds light on the pressure and haste that workers are often subjected to, increasing the risk of accidents. "I was trying to speed up as instructed by the owner, which led to my hand getting caught in the machine. After the accident, I was simply fired," she shares. 

Neetu's story is not unique within the industrial sector. She mentions other workers who have suffered injuries, highlighting a pattern of negligence and lack of support for employees. "Two other workers got injured in separate incidents, yet there was no action taken by the employer," Neetu reveals.

When confronted with these allegations, the response from Neetu’s employer at Welding Equipment India in Faridabad was dismissive. Vijay Kumar Srivastav, identified as the CEO, displayed a startling indifference to questions regarding worker safety and standard operating procedures following accidents. "I don’t know about that... I am eating food. Don’t disturb me," Vijay responded when questioned about safety measures. 

Deepu's Story and the Continuing Struggle for Accountability

The narrative of factory worker accidents continues with Deepu's story, further illustrating the pattern of neglect and disregard for employee safety across various sectors. Deepu's account of being forced to work on unfamiliar machinery without proper training culminates in a serious injury.

Factory worker Deepu
Factory worker Deepu lost his right hand in an accident | Photo courtesy: The Probe

"The company sent me to work on a machine I didn’t know how to operate. I refused, but the owner insisted, saying they were paying me to do as they say," Deepu explains. Deepu alleges that his injury occurred on a power press machine when he was coerced into operating it. "There were no covers on the machine, no safety measures in place. My hand got amputated because I didn't have an ESI card at the time because of which I didn’t get timely treatment," Deepu recounts. He mentions witnessing other workers with similar injuries, pointing out the grim reality that some continue to work in the same hazardous conditions due to limited employment opportunities elsewhere. "In front of me, a man and a woman both lost fingers and yet, after brief medical treatment, were brought back for duty," Deepu shares. 

When confronted with these allegations, Deepu's employer, Randhir Singh of LK Enterprises in Faridabad denied any wrongdoing and even disputed Deepu's role at the time of the accident in the factory. "He was not a machine operator at all. He was a driver. He went to lift materials and got his hand stuck in the machine due to his carelessness," Randhir claimed, shifting the blame entirely onto Deepu. 

The High Cost of Negligence: Ashu Yadav's Tragic Accident

Ashu Yadav, a nineteen-year-old factory worker, found himself at the mercy of a machine and faced a tragic accident. As the sole breadwinner for his family, Ashu's injury not only impacts his own livelihood but also throws his family's future into uncertainty.

Factory worker Ashu Yadav
Worker Ashu Yadav suffered fatal injuries in a factory accident | Photo courtesy: The Probe

Ashu's account reveals a troubling pattern of disregard for safety concerns raised by workers. Despite noticing the poor condition of the machine and voicing his complaints to factory seniors, Ashu's warnings fell on deaf ears. "I complained many times to the seniors in the factory. They used to run the machine two or three times and then told us, 'The machine is fine, you can use it.’ This cavalier attitude towards safety, coupled with the disabling of safety sensors to meet production targets, created a hazardous environment for workers like me,” recounts Ashu.

Our attempts to engage with Ashu’s factory management shed light on a culture of secrecy and evasion. Even individuals claiming to hold positions of authority, such as HR heads, were unwilling to disclose essential information, including the identity of company owners. 

Legal Frameworks Fall Short

Surya Prakash, an advocate specialising in labour law, sheds light on the harsh realities faced by factory workers, where accidents are often met with silence and impunity. Despite clear laws intended to safeguard workers' rights, their implementation remains woefully inadequate. Surya Prakash delineates the two key areas of concern: Occupational Safety and Workplace Hazards, and Social Security. He says there is a significant gap between legislation and enforcement, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation.

The labyrinthine system of subcontracting in factories complicates the establishment of accountability in the event of accidents. Surya Prakash highlights the challenges workers face in identifying the responsible parties, given the absence of a direct employee-employer relationship. Workers lack essential documentation, such as ID cards and bank accounts, further increasing their vulnerability. This lack of clarity not only hampers workers' ability to seek compensation but also perpetuates a cycle of exploitation and neglect within the factory settings.