Building a Safety and Health Culture in India’s Construction Sector

In India’s construction sites, women are doing much of the unskilled heavy work. Effective training can give them a chance to overcome dangerous work practices and provide opportunities to secure skilled, better paying jobs that improve the quality of their lives.

Date issued: 18 May 2009 | Size/duration: 00:03:11 (10.9 MB)
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Visit any construction site in India, and you will see women and men working alongside each other. But often it is the women who do most of the “heavy lifting.” This is unskilled work: carrying bricks, gravel, mortar and water up to the skilled carpenters and masons. It is difficult, and very dangerous. But while many of these women recognize the dangers, they often feel helpless to do anything about it.

Punni Bai, Brick Carrier

There are problems and risks in working at heights but I have to do it to make a living.

Women construction workers may carry single loads of up to 51 kilos, far more than the weight limit recommended by occupational safety and health standards for women. They also tend to carry heavier loads when they have to climb up a job site, so they don’t have to climb up as often. Repeated hour after hour, day after day, month after month, it all takes a toll on the women, and their bodies.

Edmundo Werna, ILO Construction Specialist

If the workers do not know or are not aware on how to protect themselves, of course it is very important for them to do so, and if the employers are not aware on how they can protect the workforce, this makes it very difficult as well.

Most unskilled women laborers can only work for 8, or at most 12 years, before their bodies give out, and they face a life of chronic health problems.

Edmundo Werna

They often do not wear protective equipment; therefore they are exposed to general risks in sites like intoxication with fumes or corrosive materials like cement. In addition to this, they are often expose to harassment and discrimination which they claim as a cause of stress, and also fatigue because they have a double journey normally: at work and at home.

Supported in part by the International Labour Organization, the Self Employed Women’s Association or “SEWA” has been helping women in India’s construction industry since 1998, providing insurance and training. SEWA has trained several thousand women in masonry skills. Effective training can give women a chance to overcome dangerous work practices, especially in unskilled labour, and provide opportunities to secure skilled, better paying jobs that improve the quality of their lives.

Woman Mason

I have benefited a lot from the training. Before I had no idea about the ratio for concrete, I had no idea about how much sand, cement, bricks etc… I did whatever the mason said. Now I know nine inch bricks and 4.5 bricks. Before I used to get 70 or 80 rupees, now I get 150 rupees.

Proper training helps reduce the risks of debilitating accidents as well as chronic strain injuries.

Moving up towards decent work is now within the reach of these hard-working women.