Indian businesses are increasingly using technological innovations to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in the workplace, a recent online conference heard.
The OSH India Virtual Expo brought together government officials, industry associations and health and safety practitioners from some of India’s leading companies to discuss how businesses can effectively manage the risk from coronavirus. The free online conference and exhibition was organised by Informa Markets in India and was supported by the British Safety Council.
Srinath K, vice president at industrial automation and robotics company MAC Machine Tools and Automation, said electronic tagging technology has been developed to help ensure adequate social distancing and to trace the close contacts of workers who test positive for Covid-19. The smart tags are carried by employees and sound an audible alarm if workers get too close to each other. They also allow the employer to identify an individual’s close contacts so colleagues can be tested and identify the areas of the workplace the individual has entered so they can be cleaned and disinfected.
Srinath K said the technology was also bringing other benefits and uses – for example, by making it easier to evacuate work sites during fire alerts.
“Fire evacuation for many businesses generally means taking physical headcounts of the fire assembly area,” he explained. “The tag system is a non-touch way of recording the attendance of workers as they enter the workplace. You then know exactly how many people are present on the site and in which areas of the site.
“So, should there be a disaster or fire, the system allows you to very quickly identify whether all the people who should be in the emergency assembly point have assembled or not. You can identify if, for example, someone remains in a certain zone of the workplace and then evacuate them.”
Srinath K added: “Covid-19 is giving us an opportunity to respond to many things that we may have put aside in the past and not dealt with. It is forcing digital interventions to come into place.”
Technological solutions required for Covid-19
Meanwhile, Satyajeet Rajan, additional chief secretary of Labour, Skills and Excise in the Government of Kerala, called on Indian businesses to develop new scientific and technological solutions to help further reduce Covid-19 transmission at work and in the community.
“If workers have to share personal protective equipment, such as safety spectacles, they will have to be properly sanitised and we have proper scientific solutions for that,” he warned.
Satyajeet Rajan added: “In South Korea and other countries, they are looking into using ultraviolet (UV) radiation for sanitisation against the coronavirus and this is something that we need to pick up in India.
“So that is a challenge for Indian industry – to look at using UV sanitisation against the coronavirus.”
A number of health and safety practitioners from leading businesses shared some of the measures they have adopted to reduce the risk of workers contracting or transmitting the virus at work.
Karan Vir Singh, general manager of fire and safety at the Mumbai Refinery of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, said the company had arranged for the essential workers required to operate its petroleum refinery in Mumbai to be privately transported to work to avoid the need for them to use public transport.
He added that the company had ensured that only the essential workers required to operate the refinery attended the site. The essential visiting contractors were also placed in on-site accommodation to avoid the need for them to travel in and out of the community, where they could be at risk of infection and therefore at risk of infecting their co-workers.
Reminder of the importance of good communication
Meanwhile, Ravindra Dhapola, head of corporate SHE, CSR and sustainability at Tata Coffee Limited, said the Covid-19 crisis had provided a reminder of the importance of ensuring good communication between managers and workers on health, safety and wellbeing issues.
Ravindra Dhapola said Tata Coffee operates over 25 coffee and tea plantations that employ between 14,000-18,000 people, many of them migrants. When the lockdown was announced many of the workers wanted to return to their home states, even though non-essential travel was prohibited in India.
“You are talking to a set of people [coffee and tea plantation workers] who are desperate, saying they want to go home,” said Ravindra Dhapola. “So, it was about the line managers and HR talking to them on a regular basis. It’s about talking and having empathy.”
Many speakers argued that the Covid-19 pandemic had prompted the Indian people and Indian businesses in general to give a greater priority to ensuring good health and safety.
Satyajeet Rajan, additional chief secretary of Labour, Skills and Excise in the Government of Kerala, said: “I’ve seen more construction workers in Kerala using the proper gear, and I think before the pandemic this would have taken years to ensure they used this gear.
“But I think that Covid-19 means that the proper gears will be used by everybody.”
However, Satyajeet Rajan warned that as businesses and industry gradually re-open across India, employers must remember that day-to-day health and safety hazards and risks will remain.
“The health and safety challenges we faced before Covid-19 will remain, and they are not going to change – such as the fire and chemical hazards, and the hazards faced by construction workers,” he said. “So, let’s not forget about those hazards.”
For more information on the OSH India Virtual Expo series see: www.oshindia.com
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