Saturday, October 8, 2016

AKU, GIZ set off to boost Pakistan’s export industry

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Improving the health and safety of workers in the textile sector, Pakistan’s largest industry, can boost productivity, competitiveness and compliance, according to studies released by the Aga Khan University and GIZ, the German development agency, at a collaborative event.

The textile industry, with its significant contribution to the country’s exports (58 per cent), is supported by an estimated 10 million strong workforce who often face safety and health issues.  
Most commonly, textile mill employees are exposed to significant amounts of cotton dust leading to respiratory diseases such as byssinosis as well as complaints such as chest tightness, shortness of breath and persistent coughing. 

The MultiTex research project, carried out by AKU’s Community Health Sciences Department, found that employees most at risk of chest ailments were the least aware of health hazards. The Return on Prevention study by GIZ found that textile industry stakeholders could be willing to invest in health and safety as they were aware of a return on investment. 

The AKU’s MultiTex project looked at the severity of health risks in textile mills and workers’ understanding of occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards around them. 

Interviewing 300 employees at seven mills in Karachi, with a workforce of approximately 9,000 people, almost all (90 per cent) were not educated and most had little awareness of the risks of cotton dust. 

Worse, employees who were more exposed to cotton dust, since they worked longer shifts and more days per week, than their counterparts were less aware of health hazards. 

Almost 80 percent of the workers were not using safety precautions (such as facemasks) that would help protect them against hazards at the workplace. 

“These preliminary findings reinforce our earlier study. Our previous research on 372 workers in 15 textile mills in Karachi found that cotton-dust related diseases and ailments were common,” Dr Asaad Nafees, Assistant Professor, AKU, remarked. 

“About 1 in 10 textile workers developed byssinosis, 2 in 10 employees suffered from shortness of breath and 3 in every 10 labourers complained of tightness in the chest. These health risks reduce the quality of life for so many employees and result in absenteeism and lost productivity for the textile industry. With 10 million or more employees in this sector, this represents a significant cost in human capital and potential manufacturing output,” he added. 

The MultiTex study saw researchers use special indoor devices to measure air pollution in different parts of the mills. Workers also wore personal air monitors (which tracked whether dangerous levels of cotton dust were being inhaled) and were given lung function tests before and after shifts to assess the seriousness of the daily impact of pollution. 

The AKU researchers are currently conducting follow-up studies to understand the long-term health threats facing employees. For now they have suggested three possible approaches to improve the health and safety of workplaces. Personal protective equipment, face masks to reduce inhalation of harmful particles followed by OHS training for managers and workers to improve knowledge, attitude and practices. 

Organizational changes to minimize the number of workers in danger areas and to reduce the time spent by workers in high exposure settings and structural changes involving the purchase of new machinery or improved workplace design and ventilation. 

These recommendations complemented the research Return on Prevention study that involved structured interviews with employees in 58 companies to understand whether investments in occupational health and safety pay off for companies in the textile and garment industry. 

The companies interviewed stated that occupational health and safety practices were ‘very important’ especially in the areas of warehousing, production, personnel allocation and transport. They also stated that investments in health and safety typically paid-off, offering a return of 2.5. 

Speaking at the event, Mr Olaf Petermann, from German Social Accident Insurance BG ETEM said that investments in occupational health and safety boost the competitiveness and compliance of Pakistani businesses.

“The research findings shared today help build a case for textile industry stakeholders to improve health and safety since it will benefit both workers and the financial performance of companies,” he noted. 

“The Sindh Labour department is fully committed to improve the occupational health and safety standards in the industry,” Sindh Labour Department’s Joint Director (Health and Safety) Ali Ashraf Naqvi, added. 

“This event has enabled an informed discussion among all stakeholders of the industry and we look forward to working with all representatives to ensure a healthy workforce and a strong industry,” Zulfiqar Shah, Joint Director, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), recognized. 

The event ended with a panel discussion featuring representatives from the Sindh Labour Department, a technical consultant from SGS Pakistan and officials from non-governmental organizations, HomeNet, PILER and business associations. They discussed the relevance of the findings for the industry’s future and the most feasible steps to take to achieve OHSE goals.

AMUOBA remembers Dr A T Khan

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)  

Rich tributes were paid to the late Dr A T Khan, the first Vice-Chancellor of the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology (SSUET), Karachi, at a memorial meeting organized by the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Association (AMUOBA), at the SSUET campus. 

He was particularly remembered for his contribution in the preparation of draft of Charter for the establishment of the SSUET and his role towards promotion of engineering education. 

The speakers on the occasion talked with awe about the educational acumen of late A T Khan who dedicated 39 years of career in promoting the cause of education and recalled his services for SSUET as its first Vice-Chancellor following his retirement from the NED University of Engineering and Technology, at the same position. 

The former Vice Chancellor of the University of Karachi, Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, a renowned educationist and scholar, was the chief guest in the ceremony which was presided over by the SSUET Chancellor, Jawaid Anwar. 

The speakers included the SSUET Vice-Chancellor, Prof Dr Jawed H. Rizvi, Brig Dr Nasim A. Khan, Dr Prof Abdul Samad Khan, Engr Najib Haroon, Engr Asif Qasim Maisoorwala besides Mohammed Mohsin Khan, son of late A T Khan and Treasurer AMUOBA. The family members of late A T Khan were also present on the occasion. 

In his presidential address, the SSUET Chancellor Jawaid Anwar paid glowing tributes to late A T Khan and said that he was a true educationist who understood the importance of knowledge. 

He said that it’s for the first time that this function in memory of late Dr A T Khan has been organized because he’s fully convinced that only those nations progress which remember their legends and Dr A.T. Khan was also a legendary figure. 

He recalled that it was with this vision that AMUOBA organized a similar memorial meeting earlier for the late Engr Z A Nizami, the first Chancellor of SSUE, and named one recently constructed new academic block after his name. 

Similalry, the AMUOBA organized had memorial meeting for another legendary personality Zakir Ali Khan whose association with AMUOBA spanned over 50 years besides organizing a seminar on Shaheed-e-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan, adding that one building will also be named after Shaheed-e-Millat. 

Chancellor Jawaid Anwar while highlighting the importance of knowledge quoted a Quranic Verse which first word is ‘Iqra’ and said this gives a reflection of the importance Islam gives to acquisition of knowledge. 

He underlined the importance of teachers, stating that teaching is one such major responsibility which contributes to the building of nations and Dr A T Khan was one of those teachers who immensely contributed towards this cause. 

Describing him as the most impressive personality for his students, he disclosed that the SSUET planned to establish a soil testing laboratory to be named after Dr A T Khan 

Speaking as the chief guest, Prof Dr Pirzada Qasim Riza Siddiqui, also paid tributes to late Dr AT Khan and regarded him a role a great model for teachers and students. 

He said to be feeling honored having had very close relations with late Dr A T Khan and advised the students to follow his footsteps for the achievement of their career objective. 

Dr Pirzada advised the professionals to join teaching by choice and not by chance for its being a noble profession. Dr A T Khan had a quality that with the minimum resources he made great result out of it, he added. 

In his speech the SSUET Vice-Chancellor, Prof Dr Jawed H Rizvi, said that from now on Dr A T Khan will be remembered on regular basis for his contribution in teaching and in civil engineering in particular. 

Engr Mohammad Mohsin Khan, son of late Dr A T Khan thanked the SSUET Chancellor and the AMUOBA President, Jawaid Anwar, the SSUET Vice Chancellor, Prof Dr Jawed H Rizvi , and the AMUOBA for organizing the purposeful memorial meeting to pay homage and recall the immense educational contribution of his illustrious father.

He observed that it was for the first time in 20 years when Dr A T Khan is being paid tributes in such a befitting manner after having served for 39 years at the NED University, rising from Lecturer to Vice Chancellor. 

He said it’s a source of great inspiration that as many as members of Dr A T Khan's family were civil engineers. 

Engr Najeeb Haroon rated Dr A T Khan a great teacher and recalled his important role in civil engineering in Pakistan. 

Engr Asif Qasim Maisoorwala recalled that Dr A T Khan also taught ethics and how education led us to spend life. 

Prof Dr Abdul Samad reckoned that Dr A T Khan was the pioneer of soil mechanics in Pakistan, having introduced it in 1960s. 

Brig Dr Naseem A. Khan, representing Usmani Associates suggested that such events should be held on regular basis for our past and present legends. 

The meeting ended with a vote of thanks by the AMUOBA General Secretary, Mohammed Arshad Khan, and the presentation of souvenirs to Pirzada Qasim and other dignitaries.

Akhuwat chief inspires SSUET students

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Dr Mohammad Amjad Saqib, Executive Director, Akhuwat Foundation, visited the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology (SSUET), Karachi, where he had a detailed session with its students.

The Akhuwat Foundation’s founder inspired the students and inculcated in them a sense of gratitude for their blessings and a sense of responsibility to share these with people who are less fortunate. 

The Lahore-based Akhuwat Foundation was established in 2001 with the objective of providing interest free microfinance to the poor in order to enhance their standard of living. 

Drawing on the principles of social justice and brotherhood, Akhuwat has been striving to alleviate poverty by creating a system based on mutual support in society, having adopted microfinance as its operational strategy with the loans being offered in accordance with the doctrines of Qarz-e-Hassan. 

Akhuwat, registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1860, levies no interest on its loans, operates through religious places and seeks to inspire and harness the spirit of volunteerism in society. The mandate of Akhuwat extends beyond financial transactions as it makes every effort to guide, support and empower the poor.

Dr Amjad Saqib has been bringing to light the fact that in Pakistan, almost 50 percent population was forced to live below poverty line which made it the responsibility of affluent people to prevent the poor from becoming beggars. 

"We feel that it is our responsibility to provide them interest free loan to hard working poor people to establish their own small business to support their families," he was quoted as saying. 

During the last 15 years, the Akhuwat Foundation has provided three billion rupees interest free loan to over 1.6 million families to make them independent economically and the recovery of loan was around 99.9 per cent which helped them to perpetuate its welfare activities.