Internationally, countries have laid down stringent safety laws, regulations and standards pertaining to façade maintenance and window cleaning. But, in India there are no laws or rules specifically laid down for the safety of people working at heights! Ironically, the laws laid down for the safety of workers, in general, are more than 50 years old and do not include façade cleaning workers. Moreover, BIS too does not have specific safety rules for such workers! Clean India Journal reports on the safety precautions required at individual levels and expounds the possible measures necessary for working safely at heights.
Is it the principal employer or the client who engages a façade cleaning company responsible for the safety of the operator?
Is it the façade cleaning contractor who outsources his cleaner to the client company responsible for the safety of his worker?
Is it the worker himself responsible for his safety?
In the absence of any kind of law addressing the facade cleaning profession in India, the responsibility of the façade cleaner’s safety is much disputed. While, client companies point towards the FM service provider or façade cleaning contractor for being responsible for their workers’ safety, the ‘contractors’ are known to have sacrificed safety to meet expenses. The operators, being inexperienced and unqualified, are unaware of their safety rights.
Some of the client companies outsourcing façade cleaning believed that the responsibility of the operator’s safety laid with the employer that is the FM service provider or the contractor. The Indian laws of Workers’ Safety Act or Workmen’s Compensation Act, Factories’ Act, Contract Labour & Shop and Establishment Act and others have laid down rules for the payments and provisions of the contract labourer; it does not address the SAFETY aspect of an operator working on heights. Quoting from the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act 1970: “Contract workers need to be paid as per the minimum wage act. For the health and welfare of contract labourers certain provisions have been made mandatory by the Contract Labour Act such as safe drinking water, canteen facilities, first aid facilities etc. Social security covers in terms of provident fund benefits and medical facilities need to be also given to the contract employees. It is the primary responsibility of the contractors to provide all facilities to the workers as delineated in the Act.
“However, the principal employer should ensure the presence of his authorized representative at the place and time of disbursement of wages by the contractor to the workmen and it is the duty of the contractor to ensure the disbursement of wages in his/her presence. However, if the contractor fails to pay wages or provide other facilities, the responsibility falls on the principal employer. Field officers of labour department are supposed to conduct regular inspections to detect violations of the provisions of the Act. ”
Legally, the principal employer is not bonded to any untoward incident related to the safety of the contract worker in the client premises. A few responsible client companies CIJ spoke to say, “Selection of an appropriate company is vital and it is important to have background checks done on the FM Company. The previous work done by the company, its track record in the industry, the working conditions and also the safety procedures followed by it have to be taken under consideration. The client usually advices on the usage of safety apparatus like safety belts and helmets.”
“A supervisor should be appointed to monitor the work being carried out. The checks should include proper methodology of engaging in façade cleaning, like correct usage/dosage of cleaning chemicals, cleaning methods, etc. Some client companies insist on information of the safety procedures in place for the work carried out and also insurance details of the workers employed. Medical certificates of the workers are requested to see that they do not suffer from history of heart and blood pressure related ailments.”
Pointing out the fact that the operators are employed by the contractor, Manjunath D Manager – Administration and Facilities, Sonata Software Limited, says “For sending unfit and untrained personnel to do specialised jobs like façade cleaning, the contract company should be held in case of mishaps. But it is also the responsibility of the client company to ensure that work is started only with the proper safety procedures in place and the operators sporting proper safety apparatus get on the ropes after being medically certified for the job.”
On a firm note, Faizullah Khan I, Chief Engineer, HILTON Mumbai, says “We advise the use of cradles for façade cleaning and in case of other methods being adopted, we insist on safety apparatus like, belts, nets, etc. There is also a person on surveillance, whose job profile is to provide support to the operator on line and do the needful in case of an accident. It is difficult to keep track of the employee medical records as the contactor usually just brings contractual employees. But we do insist on safety methods to be in place and if an accident occurs due to wrong methodology being adopted, the contactor is squarely held responsible.”
However, façade access/cleaning companies argue that the client is responsible and answerable to authorities if something unfortunate happens due to non-compliance of safety norms. “Occurrence of accident involving life of a person can bring bad reputation and can result in prolonged litigation. Unsafe methods can even damage the façade, which will not be noticed immediately; but in near future it will bring in more shocking news and the cost implications then will be very high. To deploy safe, secure system and follow safety norms, it doesn’t cost much. It is only a matter of will. It ultimately pays in the long run to be safe than be sorry.”
With regards to the responsibility of the workers safety, one thing that is agreed upon is that, all obligations and responsibilities of the parties involved in the contract should be clearly agreed upon and duly noted in the contract. Everything has to be in written form and explicitly outlined before any kind of work is implemented.