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Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2012 May-Aug; 16(2): 66–71.
PMCID: PMC3617510

Socio-economic status of workers of building construction industry



Informal/unorganised sector covers 92% of the total work force in India. About 50% of the construction industrial workers belonged to informal/unorganised sector.

Material and Methods:

The present study was undertaken to know the socio-economic status of construction worker and availing of the social security measures by this working group.

Results and Conclusion:

The study covered 150 subjects with an average age of 32 years and mean duration of work was nine years. They were poorly paid with an average income of Rs. 4956/-per month. Though the literacy rate was high (79%) yet most of them were addicted to different habits like drinking alcohol, smoking bidi, tobacco chewing etc., Abusing the family members were noted in (30%) of the cases. Their regular intake of food, usually inadequate in quantity and was mainly consisted of rice, pulses, vegetables. Though most of the subjects (73%) were living in kacha houses yet the latrine facilities were available to 62% of total covered houses. Majority of them were unaware of the different social security schemes/measures. The details have been discussed here.

Keywords: Building construction workers, social security schemes, socio economic status, vulnerable population


Industrialization with the introduction of newly developed technologies plays an important role for development of a country. Building construction is the basic of industrial developments.[1] In India it is one of the fastest growing industries with an annual growth of 10%.[2,3] It has wide range of activities with employment of a substantial number of workers. They are mainly working in informal/unorganised sector. In India about 340 million (92%) workers are in unorganized sector and about half of them are in construction industry.[47] Government of India and State governments promulgated/framed Acts and Rules for regulation of working conditions and workers in the industry.[5,812] Social welfare measures have also been included in some Acts, specially the social security schemes framed by different governments.[1] As per National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), workers are victims of adverse working environmental conditions and subjected to health hazards of occupational origin.[10,11] These workers are poor and vulnerable. Their employment is totally temporary in nature.[13] The socio-economic stresses are one of the major outcomes of their occupation. Security measures are not being provided or adopted by them while working. They are being exploited by the contractors. There is no specified time limit/frame of work for them. They had to work on an average for about 10 hours/day.[14] Mostly they are migratory workers. At times, they are prone to injuries and accidents.[1520]

This article tries to find out the socio-economic status of the workers in and around north east part of Kolkata.


This is a cross sectional prospective study. Different employment units/groups located in and around north-east part of Kolkata were identified. Employment units have been selected by stratified sampling techniques.[21] Total coverage of workers in each selected unit was attempted (except those who were absenting themselves during the entire period of study). A questionnaire was prepared, tested and validated. These subjects were apprised of the study protocol and the written consent of each subject for their voluntary participation was obtained. The questionnaire was administered individually, separately to each subject. Individual subjects standing height (cms) and weight (Kgs) (bare footed) were taken as per standard method. The Body Mass Index (BMI) was calculated using the following equation (World Health Organization (WHO)).[22,23]

BMI = W/H2

where W = weight in Kg(s)

H = height in metre(s)

Estimation of haemoglobin was done in field condition by acid haematin method (Sahli's).[24] Each subject was asked whether they were aware of the various social security schemes provided by the government and whether they were availing any of these schemes or not. Collected data was analysed using Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) INFO (WHO) software.[25]


This study covered 150 subjects (male-140, female-10) from unorganized construction industries. Among the subjects 69% were Hindus and the rest were Muslims. Most of them belonged to general caste (59%) and schedule caste was the other major category. It was found that 61% of the workers were married. The average family size was of five members. Similar family size was reported by Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA).[26] Railway porters also showed similar average family size.[27] However, in mica processing industries the average family size was found to be seven.[28] It was noted that most of the workers in unorganized construction units were migrant in nature. They usually used to come to urban areas from rural areas in search of livelihood leaving behind their families on seasonal basis. They used to go back to their native during harvesting season.

The old traditional way of construction by digging soil, creating large base by brick layers before and further construction by thick wall reaching up to surface soil is practically not found now a days. Instead, presently in addition to mud digging/cutting there is creation of concrete base and erection of pillars on the base. For construction of building various types of jobs are there; some are more or less similar and some are different. Considering the job similarity, the workers had been grouped into six main groups [Figure 1]. They were mainly helper-47%, rajmistry-29%, supervisor-11% etc.

Figure 1
Percentage distribution of workers according to different category of jobs

While construction of building the major construction work is done by the rajmistry and their helper. The system of helper and mistry is found in almost all categories of jobs (rajmistry, centring, marble, colour, plaster, plumber, carpenter, electrician etc.,). These helpers with practical training in course of their employment become mistry.

The physical characteristics of the subjects have been summarised in Table 1. It was found that the average age of the workers was 32.0 ± 10.9 years. The average height and weight of the workers were 161.8 ± 7.3 cms and 52.4 ± 8.7 Kgs respectively. The average Indian's standard height and weight are 160.7 ± 98 cms, 55.2 ± 11.3 Kgs respectively.[29] The study showed that the mean height of the subjects was slightly more than the average Indian standard height. However, the mean weight of the subjects was less than the mean Indian standard weight. In earlier studies on unorganized sector workers average weight was found to be less than the present study.[3032]

Table 1
Physical parameters of the subjects (mean±SD)

Table 2 showed the age group-wise distribution of subjects. While categorizing the subjects in age groups it was revealed that about 63% subjects were in the age groups of 20-39 years.

Table 2
Age group-wise distribution of subjects

The individual BMI indicated mainly the nutritional status and obesity of the subjects. The average BMI of workers was 18.9 ± 5.0 Kg/m2 (range 13.7 to 29.9 Kg/m2). The normal range of BMI is 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2.[22,23] The mean value of the BMI of the subjects was within normal range. About 35% of subjects were suffering from chronic energy deficiency (CED) with BMI <18.5 Kg/m2. BMI >24.9 Kg/m2 was noted in about 5% subjects and they were in obese category. According to WHO the classification of BMI, it is associated with degree of underweight and/over weight which at times is associated with risk of some non-communicable diseases.[3335] Anaemia was found in 28% of the workers. Out of 35% subjects suffering from CED 48% were suffering from anaemia of different severity (mild-40%, moderate-8%).

The literacy rate of the subjects was graphically presented in Figure 2. It is generally considered that the labourers of unorganized sectors are usually poor and illiterate. But this study revealed that about 79% of the subjects were literate. It was interesting to note that 10% of subjects have passed class X examination. According to Census 2011, in West Bengal literacy rate among general population is 77%[36] and the covered subjects followed almost the similar trend. It is also to be noted that 53% workers parents were illiterate.

Figure 2
Percentage distribution of subjects according to their literacy

It was revealed that 40% of the workers were only bread and butter earner of their family. They had no other source of income. The average monthly total income of the subjects was Rs.4956/-(Rs.900/-to Rs.15000/-). At times it became very difficult for the workers to manage their family expenditure with their earnings. Figure 3 showed the trend of income to that of expenditure of the subjects (as stated by them). It may be seen that in some cases expenditure was more than the income. This might be due to the fact that to cope up with their daily requirements they had to borrow/take loan from their relatives, friends etc., This hardship might result in stress and strain amongst the workers.

Figure 3
Income and expenditure of the subjects

The minimum daily wage of these workers was Rs. 100/-only. The current minimum wages of construction workers according to Ministry of Labour, Government of West Bengal ranged between Rs. 142.25/-to Rs. 167.29/-.[37] It was noted that about 61% of the workers earned less than Rs. 5000/- per month followed by 25% of workers earned between Rs. 5000/- to Rs. 7500/- and 11% in range of Rs. 7500/- to Rs. 10,000/- respectively. About 24% of the literate workers were earning in between Rs 5,000/- to Rs 7,500/- and 8% literate earning in between Rs 7,500/- to Rs. 10,000/-. They were exploited by labour contractors and they had to work at lower wages. The minimum wage of the construction workers was better than agriculture and domestic worker.[5] Fulfilling of the family commitments of the workers with this low wages is also a difficult proposition. At times they take/borrow loan from friends, relatives etc., to accomplish with their requirements. Therefore, they were subjected to stress and strain; suffering from anxiety[38] and at times this leads to alcohol intake.[1] It was observed that better job opportunities by training and certification can lead to more income.[1,2,39]

About 53% of the workers were smokers and they smoke mainly bidi. Other important habits were chewing tobacco, panmasala, alcohol intake etc., Smoking may cause/aggravate lung ailments like cough, breathlessness, chronic bronchitis, heart disease etc.[40,41] Pulmonary function test impairment mainly obstructive type may be associated with smoking.[42] Smoking for a long time might cause throat and lung cancers.[43,44] The workers misuse their money on smoking/alcohol consumption. About 37% consumed alcohol (foreign liquor-58%, country liquor-36%). They work hard for long hours. At times drinking of alcohol might help to reduce the psycho-social stresses or might resemble anxiety. Excess alcohol intake might result in loss of mental state, misbehaviour with the general public etc., and ultimately, this might result in scolding, assaulting and beating of wife and children etc., (30%).[3] In good number of cases it was found that alcohol was being given by labour contractors in exchange of overtime (44%) as remuneration.

They were mainly non-vegetarian (99%). The workers usually take main food three times a day- breakfast, lunch and dinner. They mostly consumed rice, sabji containing mainly potato, chapati, etc., The intake of animal protein (fish, chicken) was usually on weekly basis.

They mainly lived in kacha house (73%). Most of them prepare their food in open place outside the house (surrounded by walls made by splitted bamboo mats and no ceiling/roof). About 23% subjects cooked their food in the living room. Their wife/female co-partners cook food while carrying their small child in arms. Usually they used wood (63%) as fuel for cooking purpose. Burning of wood emits gases like carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) etc., Inhaling of these gases might cause cough, breathing problem, suffocation etc., Majority of them (70%) were using public tubewell (74%)/taps (21%) as a source drinking water. Plastic bottles (51%) and Aluminium buckets (28%) were the utensils for storage of water. Earthen pot was found in 16% of the cases for storing water.

Separate latrine facility was present in 62% houses. Common latrine facility for a group was also there. For defaecation 54% of the workers used to go to open field. Most of the construction workers (61%) were using kerosene lamp, hurricane and other mode of light at night. The connection of electricity is yet to reach their homes. About 39% of the workers house had electricity facility. The electricity was used by them for light (37%), fan (32%), television (23%), radio (6%) and others [DVD player, freeze]. The main recreational activities were (a) participation in different types of sports and games (football, cricket etc.), (b) observing or viewing TV or listening to Radio programmes. Majority of workers (71%) attended/participated different social functions/recreations like marriages in relatives/neighbours, rituals, festivals etc.

About 58% of the subjects were aware of using contraceptive for spacing between the children. The different methods were oral contraceptive pills (30%), withdrawal methods (13%), ligation (10%), condoms (4%) etc.

The subjects were exposed to different types of working environment. The distribution of workers according to present duration of exposure was given in Table 3. It is seen that present exposure of the construction workers on an average was nine years. The average total exposure for construction job was 14 years. Most of the workers in construction industry were migratory in nature. Most of the workers were working for less than five years duration (66%).

Table 3
Distribution of workers according to present duration of exposure [Figures [Figures446]
Figure 4
Loader carrying loads (water soaked bricks-5 Kg each)
Figure 5
Marble mistry (Electrical stone cutting) Note Compromising personal safety
Figure 6
Raj mistry (Floor-leveling, laying bricks outside wall)

The study revealed that only 22% workers were engaged in this job for generation together. This is contrary to the findings of SEWA who reported that 66% of construction workers in Delhi worked for generation together.[26] About 83% of the workers were engaged on no work no pay basis. They worked from morning 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a lunch break for one hour or half an hour. At times they had to work for 10-12 hours. The maximum stipulated hours of work by Indian Factories Act 1948 was eight hours per day.[1,45] But for earning more and urgency of completing the work in fixed time, they had to work for long hours; of course they get minimum overtime allowances for this.

These subjects were usually victim of different types of injuries. It was seen that the injuries were due to (a) cut by sharp objects (46%), (b) fall from height (20%), (c) falling of objects from height (15%) etc., The workers were not habituated in using preventive measures against any accidents, like use of helmet, gloves, boots etc., Injuries and accidents while at work were noted among 39% of the workers. Cleaning and washing of hands and legs properly after the work or during lunch break was not a common practice. Rough and keratotic skin of foot and palm was seen. Using of same un-cleaned clothes for days together at work was also observed.

The government has initiated different social security measures/programmes for the different working groups associated with industries in unorganized sectors.[1,10,11,13] The welfare measures were given wide publicity/circulation through mass media. Yet, though these are also applicable for construction workers, most of them (95%), were not aware of the so called social security schemes like Old age pension scheme, maternity leave, housing loan, children education, accident benefits schemes etc., However, each and every subjects were appraised of the different schemes/measures individually during collection of data separately.


The socio-economic status of the workers showed that they were poor. They are daily wage earners and maintain their family with small income with difficulty. It was noted that most of them were literate. They were addicted to alcohol, smoking bidi, cigarette. They did not consume adequate amount of nutritious food. In most of the cases it was found that they lived in kacha houses. A good proportion of workers cook their food in the same room in which they leave. They used wood for cooking their food. The source of drinking and cooking water was public tube wells or taps. Latrine facility was available in most cases. Their monthly income was less due to which they had to borrow from relatives or neighbours for fulfilment of their needs. They were not aware of the different social security schemes. Awareness programmes including individual/separate counselling was essential for overall upliftment.


The authors gratefully acknowledge Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi; Director, National Institute of Occupational Health; Ahmedabad and Officer-in-Charge, Regional Occupational Health Centre, Kolkata for encouragement and providing facilities.


Source of Support: Authors acknowledge the financial support given by Indian Council of Medical Research by awarding Senior Research Fellowship

Conflict of Interest: None declared.


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