Thursday 29 January 2009

Should Sikhs working on construction sites wear a hard hat?

Sikhs going into battle have faced the showers of bullets and shells of heavy guns and the fiercest enemy bombardments, wearing ‘Turbans’ instead of steel helmets for well over a century. Even during the First and Second World Wars, 83,055 Turban- wearing Sikh soldiers laid down their lives and 109,045 were wounded when fighting under the command of Allied Forces. Many were shot in the head.

Sikhs have been subjected to various laws relating to the ‘Turban’ in other countries outside India where the laws clashed with their religious requirement. One such law is to wear a steel helmet while riding on motorcycles or when working in the construction or mining sectors, etc. In most of the countries, Sikhs have been forced to spend a lot of their time and money in establishing that their Turban is an integral part of their dress and that a Turban is their only headgear and one of their significant identities. Some governments do respect the religious and cultural difference and that they have responded positively to the demands of the Sikhs.

The Government of Malaysia allowed the Sikhs to wear a Turban instead of a crash helmet in the year 1973. Likewise, the Governments of Singapore and that of Australia exempted the Sikhs from wearing crash helmets. They have been allowed to wear Turban as their only headgear. In accordance with the Motor-Cycle Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act passed by the British Parliament in 1976, Section 2A exempts ‘any follower of the Sikh religion while he is wearing a turban’ from having to wear a crash helmet. Similarly, the highest Court of the United Kingdom, the House of Lords, has ruled that Sikh drivers and conductors of public vehicles are not to be compelled to wear caps. Also in Canada in 1986 Sikhs in Metro Toronto Police were permitted to wear Turbans while on duty, and since 1990 Turbaned Sikhs may join The Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I should add however, that I don’t think that a Sikh police officer would be permitted to be part of an emergency response team if he won't wear a helmet since those officers are more at risk from being shot in the head by criminals then other police officers.

Is it a good idea to ride a motorcycle without a helmet? How long does a turban stay in place when riding a motorcycle when traveling 100 km/h (62 miles per hour)? What are the chances of survival if a Sikh riding a motorcycle at that speed crashes headlong into a car? What are the chances of survival if a Sikh working at a construction site wearing a Turban is struck on the head by a hammer that falls 12 metres (40 feet onto his head)? What are the chances of survival if a Sikh who chooses to wear a Turban instead of a hard hat is struck on the head from a rock while working in a mine?

Brain surgery is expensive although it depends on a lot of factors such as complications after surgery and how long the hospital stay is. Over all, the costs of the operation and hospital stay could be as much as $750,000 or more. And if the brain injury is so severe, that the victim must be hospitalized for the rest of his life, the costs could be millions of dollars. In Ontario, those costs are paid by the health plan that every person in Ontario is covered by so they don’t have to pay a cent. The victim’s wife and young children would then be cared for by the government, adding more costs to be paid by the taxpayers.

On December 6, 2005, a security guard, Deepinder Loomba, an employee of Reilly's Security Services, arrived on his shift at a construction site at Home Depot in Toronto wearing a Turban and refusing to exchange it for a hard hat.

According to Loomba, the assistant manager at Home Depot while on the construction site, allegedly acted in a discriminatory manner towards him by threatening to have him fired if he didn’t put on a hard hat. If this is what happened, then the assistant manager was wrong. It wasn’t within his authority to have the security guard fired by his employer, Reilly's Security Services. He could however, order Loomba to leave the site.

What was Loomba’s role as a security guard at the construction site? If he was to merely remain at the entrance and was several metres (9 feet) from any structure where the work was being done, then I don’t see the necessity of having to wear a construction hat. On the other hand, if he had to wander around the construction site in which falling objects could fall on his head, then he should have worn a hard hat.

Let me say right from the beginning that I am in support for the right to freedom of religion. However, I feel that the safety of an individual takes precedence over that freedom.

If Sikhs are willing to take the risk of riding a motorcycle or working in a construction site without a helmet, let them do that but the taxpayers should not be stuck with covering their medical costs if they suffer from injuries to their heads resulting from accidents while riding motorcycles or working on construction sites because they chose not to wear a helmet or hard hat.

This issue is coming before a human rights tribunal in May of this year. I will keep my readers informed as to its decision.

The taxpayers shouldn't have to be dragged into paying the enormous costs that would follow such accidents simply because in the name of religion, Sikhs choose to wear Turbans while riding motorcycles or working on construction sites. That is the risk Sikhs are willing to take but taxpayers shouldn’t have to be saddled with those risks. Further, construction contractors who hire Sikhs who insist on wearing their Turbans instead of hard hats on construction sites should not have to pay the costs of the injuries that Sikhs may suffer from if something falls on their heads and injures them.

If Sikhs are willing to sign a waiver saying that our health care system is off the hook for any head injuries they suffer from in the case of an accident, then I see no reason why they shouldn’t wear a Turban when involved in taking such risks.

What the Sikhs who prefer Turbans to hard hats or helmets should do is take out insurance that will cover them for millions of dollars in case of head injuries so that the Ontario government (taxpayers) can then make a claim from the insurance companies for the costs that will follow. The costs of such policies will be enormous, of that there can be no doubt but if Sikhs undertaking such risks for religious purposes choose to go that route, they should willingly do that without complaint, if their beliefs are genuine.

This issue with respect to Loomba's complaint is coming up before a human rights tribunal in this upcoming May. I will inform my readers of its decision when it is made.


deepinder loomba said...

If you are sitting in non hard hat zone where people are coming and picking the hard hats to go in side and security guard is watching then what you say.That's what was the codition in this episode.

Kulwinder Singh Ahluwalia said...

I would rather sign a waiver that no taxpayer should be affected by my death but no one asked my forefathers to sign the waiver when sorry ass of some countries was being kicked by Germans and sikhs defended these taxpayers and countries!