Campaign Against Accidents

Of Safety and Safety Consciousness

Bharat Dogra

The often repeated data on road accidents in India is horrible enough but it really begins to look unbearable if the data for all accidents is added up. In several countries the number of domestic and occupational accidents can be even higher than that of road accidents. In India hardly any reliable estimates for domestic accidents are available but some of the preliminary research indicates a serious situation. The data on occupational accidents is again very scarce for the unorganised sector but quite a few scattered reports are available which reveal an overall serious situation and an alarming situation in some occupations like quarrying and stone crushers. Add to this the frequent cases of stampedes and the widely suspected presence of some highly toxic storages (Remember Bhopal?) and one begins to get an idea of the real burden of accidents.

The most important cost of accidents is of course in the form of human distress caused by death, disability and very painful injuries but even in purely economic terms the costs of accidents can be very high. The proportion of younger people and main income earners is likely to be much higher in fatal accidents than in deaths caused by disease. Even relatively minor injuries can result in skilled workers either abstaining of being unable to carry out their work. The cost of treatment of accident victims can be quite high. Accidents can result in long drawn out and expensive litigation sometimes even leading to temporary or even permanent closure of some units. While the human costs of accidents rightly get more discussed, it is obvious that accidents also result in heavy loss of expensive machinery equipment, buildings, stored materials, vehicles and other assets.

One of the most cost-effective ways of reducing accident, is to create a strong, effective and honest people's movement to increase safety consciousness at all levels. While such a movement will work on the one hand to mobilise citizens at all levels to strive in various ways for reduction and prevention of accidents, on the other this movement should also seek to influence government to make it more effective and broad-based.

In India the role of a people's movement can be even, greater as public consciousness regarding the need for and the potential of reducing accidents is very low. Some awareness and even mobilisation on road accidents has been seen in recent times but despite this violation of basic road-safety norms is very widely pervasive. As far as other accidents are concerned public consciousness at present is even lesser. However the potential of reducing and preventing accidents by increasing awareness at all levels and also by influencing public policy remains very high.

In the case of government action on safety this is mostly of a departmental kind as various government departments or ministries such as road transport, railways, labour, mines, industries etc. have their own safety programmes. However in several departments the safety programmes are very inadequate while in others these may be almost non-existent. No comprehensive approach to safety and accident prevention has been able to emerge so far from the government because of the highly segregated attitude towards safety.

One effect of this has been that safety and accident prevention could never become a big issue and only remained a peripheral issue—even this only at the segregated level of various departments. All this can change if a National Authority for Prevention and Management of Accidents can be created with branches in all states and union territories (and in the course of time sub-branches in districts).Such an organisation will be able to evolve a comprehensive approach to the reduction and prevention of all kinds of accidents. While the first priority should be to avoid or prevent accidents to the extent also possible, another part of the responsibility is to try to reduce the damage done by an accident. For example it is widely recognised that a very significant percent of road accident fatalities can be avoided if timely medical help becomes available, preferably within the first 'golden hour' of a road accident taking place.

In all this, of course, the role of a people's movement for safety and accident prevention remains very important. Firstly of course it is unlikely that this kind of important changes at the government level can be brought without adequate public pressure building up as a result of a sustained people's movement. The government will not move from its highly compartmentalised approach to a comprehensive approach on its own. People's movement has an important role in not only mobilising citizens' support for such changes but also facilitating consultations so that the best possible suggestions can be submitted to the government for effective action.

With or without such changes however a people's movement will remain important and will retain its relevance because of the more direct contribution it can always make of increasing the safety consciousness of common people. In the case of domestic accidents this role can be most important for reducing accidents but even in the case of other accidents also this role is important.

Vol. 49, No.4, Jul 31 - Aug 6, 2016