Explainer: The Code on Occupation Safety, Health and Working Condition

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Presently, there are around 40 central laws regulating different aspects of labour such as, industrial dispute resolution, bonus payments, and working conditions.  The Ministry of Labour and Employment has proposed to consolidate these laws into four codes—wages, social security, industrial safety and welfare, and industrial relations.

The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 23, 2019.[1]  The Code consolidates 13 labour laws relating to safety, health and working conditions.  These include the Factories Act, 1948, the Mines Act, 1952, and the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.  In this context, we explain key provisions of the Code.

Who will be covered under the Code?

The Code applies to organisations employing at least 10 workers, and to all mines and docks.  Provisions of this Code will cover both employees and workers.  Employees include individuals in managerial and administrative positions.  However, the Code does not apply to apprentices, or to offices of the central or state governments.

Does the Code create special provisions for different types of organisations and workers?

Apart from prescribing health and safety provisions that apply to all organisations, the Code also outlines special requirements for different types of organisations (such as factories and mines) and workers (such as beedi and cigar workers).  These special provisions include exceptions or additional requirements.  For example, under the Code, factories are required to get a license in addition to registering under the general provisions of the Code. Similarly, the Code requires certain contractors to get licenses before hiring any contract labour.  Further, audio-visual workers can only be hired after signing an agreement with employers, which must be registered with a government authority.

What are the duties of employers and employees?

The Code lays down several duties of employers.  These include, providing a workplace that is free from hazards that may cause injury or diseases, and providing free annual health examinations to employees.  For certain organisations such as, factories and mines, the employer may have additional responsibilities. These include the obligation to notify authorities in case of an accident at the workplace that leads to death or serious bodily injury of an employee.

Under the Code, employees must take care of their own health and safety, comply with the specified standards, and report unsafe situations to the inspector-cum-facilitator.  Employees also have the right to obtain information related to safety and health standards from the employer.  They may do this by directly approaching the employer, or through a Safety Committee representative.   

Will work hours be uniform for all workers and employees?

Work hours for different types of organisations and employees will be notified by the government.  This is different from the current labour laws, many of which specify work hours within the law itself.  For example, the Factories Act, 1948 provides for a maximum 10 hours of work per day and 60 hours of work per week.[2] 

The Code also changes work hour requirements for women.  The current laws such as, the Mines Act, 1952, and the Plantations Labour Act, 1951, prohibit women from working after 7 pm and before 6 am.[3],[4]  However, the Code permits female workers to work past 7 pm and before 6 am with their consent and the approval of the government.  

What working conditions and welfare facilities does the Code provide for?

The employer is required to provide a hygienic work environment with: (i) ventilation, (ii) comfortable temperature, (iii) sufficient space, (iv) clean drinking water, and (v) latrine and urinal accommodations.  In addition, the government may specify certain other facilities such as, canteens, first aid boxes, and crèches that an employer must provide for.  This is a shift from the current legislation which provides for welfare facilities like canteens and crèches, in the law itself.  For instance, the Factories Act, 1948 requires the provision of canteens, ambulances, and first aid kits for organisations depending on the number of workers employed in the organisation.2

What is the leave policy for workers?

The Code states that no employee can be made to work for more than six days a week.  However, exceptions could be provided for motor transport workers.   Annually, workers must receive one day off for every 20 days they have worked.   While calculating annual leave, maternity leave and periods of lay off will be counted as days spent on duty.

What are the authorities set up under the Code?

The Code requires central and state governments to set up Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Boards at the national and state level, respectively.  These Boards will advise the central and state governments on the standards, rules, and regulations to be framed under the Code.  

The composition of the National Advisory Board includes five representatives for employers, five representatives of employees, and five reputed persons from the fields related to occupational health and safety, amongst other members.  The composition of State Advisory Boards will be decided by state governments.

How is the Code being enforced?

An inspector-cum-facilitator may be appointed by the government to inspect workplaces, inquire and investigate accidents, and provide safety information to workers.  In the case of factories, mines, and docks, the inspector may close or restrict employment in parts of the organisation if there is a health and safety risk.

The Code also prescribes penalties for violating provisions of the Code.  An offence that leads to the death of an employee could result in imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine up to five lakh rupees, or both.  Further, at least 50% of such fine may be given as compensation to the heirs of the victim.  For any other violation where the penalty is not specified, the employer will be penalised with a fine between two and three lakh rupees.  On the other hand, if an employee violates provisions of the Code, he could be fined up to Rs 10,000.

Does the Code provide gender specific provisions?

The Code includes certain provisions specific to female and transgender workers.  With respect to women, the government can prohibit employment of women in certain organisations if working there may be dangerous to their health and safety.  Further, the Code allows female workers to work night shifts with their consent and subject to approval of the government.  The Code also acknowledges transgender persons as a third gender by requiring separate urinal and latrine accommodations, rest rooms, washing spaces, and locker rooms for male, female, and transgender workers.  

[1] Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019, Ministry of Labour and Employment, https://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/Occupational%20Safety%2C%20Health%20and%20Working%20Conditions%20Code%2C%202019.pdf.

[2] Factories Act, 1948, Ministry of Labour and Employment, https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/TheFactoriesAct1948.pdf

[3] Mines Act, 1952, http://www.dgms.gov.in/writereaddata/UploadFile/Mines%20Act,%201952.pdf.

[4] Plantations Labour Act, 1951, https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/The-Plantation-Labour-Act-1951.pdf.

[5] Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966, http://labour.bih.nic.in/acts/beedi-and-cigar-workers-act-1966.pdf.