October 9, 2023

Staff Report


Despite moves to legislate on ensuring occupational safety and health (OSH), Pakistan’s stone-crushing industries have largely gone under the radar, with laborers engaged in this industry dying young from health complications. This was posited by a research paper, authored by Usama Khawar Ghuman and published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan under their I. A. Rehman Research Grant.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), globally, 2.2 million individuals succumb annually due to work-related ailments or incidents. Additionally, over 270 million workers get injured, and approximately 160 million are affected by work-related diseases.

Pakistan’s regulations, such as the Factories Act 1934 (last revised in 2012) and the Hazardous Occupations Rules 1963, aim to ensure the health and safety of workers. However, despite these rules, the nation currently lacks independent legislation solely focusing on OSH, the research states. This gap has led to concerns, particularly in the stone-crushing industry in Punjab, where many workers are exposed to crystalline silica dust during industrial procedures, making them susceptible to silicosis, a severe lung disease.

Around 0.5 million people are directly engaged in this industry in Pakistan, and in spite of existing laws, gaps remain in their execution on the ground.

Positive actions to address OSH

A 2018 Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP) report presented to the Supreme Court claimed the establishment of OSH councils in Punjab, which the research could not independently verify. On a positive note, the Punjab Labour Department has devised an OSH checklist for labor inspections as per the Factories Act 1934. Additionally, the Punjab Employees Social Security Institution has a toll-free helpline for workers to report OSH-related grievances. Efforts such as public service messages, instructional leaflets, and awareness campaigns about silicosis risks have also been undertaken.

The ILO and World Health Organization initiated a program in 1995, aiming to eradicate silicosis globally by 2030. This program emphasizes the importance of preventive strategies, substituting less hazardous materials for silica, and early detection of worker symptoms.

Pakistan’s primary regulatory framework for OSH has been the Factories Act 1934, followed by the Factories (Amendment) Act 2022. This legislation includes measures to prevent dust accumulation and inhalation of harmful fumes. Notably, in 2015, the Punjab Hazardous Occupation (Silicon Rules) was introduced, emphasizing protective measures for workers.

The Punjab Occupational Safety and Health Act 2019, drafted by the LJCP, mandates employers to ensure workplace safety, offer regular training, and provide protective clothing and equipment. However, the 2019 law underwent an amendment in 2022, which made some provisions less stringent.

Research points to lapses in regulation

Data from the 2018 LJCP report indicates few recorded silicosis cases across various provinces. However, the research suggested the actual number might be higher. Records show that many workers affected were relatively young, with the youngest death reported at 15 and an average age of 29.

The Punjab Occupational Safety and Health Act 2019 was designed to improve working conditions in the region. Still, four years after its introduction, OSH councils have yet to be formed. Moreover, the inspectors, crucial for ensuring factory compliance and investigating complaints, face staffing and resource challenges.

As per this study, the rate of compensation recovery in cases of silicosis-related issues remains minimal. Overcoming the process to obtain compensation is complicated due to the informal operation of many stone-crushing units and the extensive documentation required.

Reportedly, there is a lack of unionization in Punjab’s stone-crushing industry, as many factories remain unregistered. Consequently, many workers cannot prove their employment, limiting their ability to negotiate safer working conditions or seek accountability in instances of workplace-related ailments or fatalities.

Recommendations and solutions

  • A comprehensive legal and regulatory structure at the nation level is required to mandate technical standards, advisory services, rigorous inspection mechanisms, and structured reporting systems

  • Designated authorities should be established and given the necessary powers to implement these measures. Furthermore, workers should have legal avenues available for redress in case of insufficient implementation

  • Measures suggested by the ILO, including the adoption of technology to reduce silica dust formation, the employment of dust control mechanisms, adhering to regulatory exposure limits, and monitoring the work environment for disease exposure, should be implemented

  • Per the Punjab Occupational Safety and Health Act 2019, OSH councils should be established and equipped with adequate human and financial resources to enforce legal provisions

  • Guidelines for inspections and efficient complaint redressal mechanisms should be introduced without delay

  • The provincial government should launch campaigns to empower labor unions and bargaining collectives. This can include community education, large-scale training, and information on silicosis risk factors

  • Leveraging existing resources, the National Tuberculosis Programme could be integrated with the proposed silicosis programme, focusing on the high-risk group of workers in stone-crushing processes

  • A robust system for documenting and reporting silicosis cases in Punjab is paramount.

  • Screening and monitoring units in proximity to stone-crushing factories are crucial for routine assessment and new case reporting

  • The government should facilitate labor union establishment, ensuring that trade union officials fulfill their duties

  • Stone-crushing enterprises must be encouraged to support labor unions, both for protecting workers and for OSH education and training

  • Screening centers near stone-crushing units can aid in the early diagnosis of silicosis

  • The government should establish welfare foundations to address the socio-economic challenges faced by silicosis patients and their families

  • Employers should provide free health insurance to all stone-crushing industry workers, enabling early testing and treatment access

  • The technical working group should organize campaigns focusing on better protective measures, disease consequences, and treatment guidance

  • Immediate removal of silicosis-affected workers from factories is essential

  • A special commission should proactively identify silicosis victims and their legal heirs, determining appropriate compensation based on the WHO’s disability-adjusted life years formula

  • Non-compliant factory owners should be penalized and held responsible for the treatment costs of affected workers

  • Proper mechanisms for compensation recovery are vital, as current labor inspection guidelines overlook compensation nuances

  • Consideration could be given to tasking a national human rights institution with investigating silicosis claims. This institution could provide a more holistic evaluation, potentially benefiting victims otherwise unable to claim compensation due to the informal sector’s strict requirements


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