Fostering healthy technologists

Manufacturing units (aka factories) come under the purview of various chapters and sections of the Factories Act, 1948 which provides detailed regulations concerning health, disposal of waste and effluents, lighting, drinking water, safety and other aspects relevant to working conditions. The legislation also governs working hours, rests, overtime for extra hours, the welfare officer et al. And the responsibility for compliance is on the ‘Occupier’ who should be a director of the company and the factory manager.

While the above provisions are grossly inadequate even for today’s manufacturing industries, they barely cover the conditions prevailing in Information Technology (IT) and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITeS) firms. Hence, it is heartening to note that the Government of Karnataka has directed IT/ITeS firms to submit draft standing orders for certification. In this context, the government must urgently address issues of health, safety and welfare applicable to these organizations.

Ground Realities
There are no mandatory standards for heating or air conditioning in workplaces particularly for software, BPO and KPO based establishments or IT/ITeS companies. Many employees in this industry suffer from chronic disorders such as respiratory infections like blocked nose, coughing and sore throat; gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhoea and nausea; apart from headaches, muscular discomfort, shortness of breath, etc. owing to inappropriate air conditioning, lack of fresh air and improper air circulation. The air ducts and cooling systems are not cleaned and result in accumulation of bacteria which are inhaled by the employees.

Poor air conditioning also has serious health effects like viral and bacterial illnesses such as fever, chills and vomiting leading to influenza, bronchitis and Legionnaire’s Disease and allergic reactions like itchy nose, watery eyes and shortness of breath causing sinusitis, asthma and humidifier fever. Apart from affecting productivity and efficiency, these ailments impair the health and quality of life of the work force. Employees in these firms who are affected by an inappropriate working environment have a case for class action for compensation for injury to health.

Being among the states with many IT firms, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh should take the lead in addressing these issues. The companies should proactively monitor their own work environment and set benchmarks with reference to international standards. NASSCOM should also tackle these matters without delay. Further, independent consultancy organizations should perform quality audits, certify workplace conditions and recommend corrective actions. Such initiatives will enhance the workplace conditions of IT professionals greatly.

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