Srinagar: The sanitation workers who work to keep us healthy are themselves exposed to various risk as the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) has ignored their plight.
Throwing the set guidelines for maintaining the health of its sanitation workers to the wind, SMC has been playing with the lives of hundreds of its workers—who are on roads keeping the lanes and by lanes clean.
There is a range of workers that are associated with SMC which includes those who clean the roadsides on regular basis, and those who are doing the sewage cleaning.
“For both the categories, no set guidelines are being followed in order to prevent the workers from catching several diseases related to the occupational hazards,” sources said.
The sanitation workers can be seen sweeping and collecting the garbage in the city amid total absence of required gear that is to be put on during their work. Leave alone using masks, the workers are not even provided with the gloves that they can put on while performing their duties, said an insider.
One among the workers, who identified himself and Bilal Ahmad said that he had not been provided with the required gear which he could have put on during work.
“I was only given an orange colour vest which I put on while working and nothing beyond that,” he said. Bilal is a daily wager at SMC, getting a meagre amount of Rs 5000 per month—too little to put a life at risk.
Bilal has to go out for work thrice daily, collecting garbage from the roadside, wearing his orange vest, while carrying along a large, on-wheels-dustbin in which he collects the garbage, Bilal says that compulsions of managing a family are making him to take these risks.
In the absence of the safety gear, the Corporation is putting lives of the workers at risk, who are usually reported to fall sick for one reason or the other, which later reveal causative effects of viral or bacterial infections.
As per the guidelines set by National Institute of Occupational Health, New Delhi, “the sanitation workers are required to put the protective gear such as protective face mask, waterproof gloves, and rubber boots,” the scene which is totally missing on ground.
The guidelines further say that such workers need to vaccinate in due course of time for their protection from several diseases.
“For sewage workers, the guidelines are even stricter, whose implementation is also missing on ground,” sources said, adding that vaccination seems to be a dream.
The vaccination is also recommended by National Institute of Occupational Health for those who are working in manual sewage cleaning.
“Vaccination is recommended for the workers exposed to sewage in consultation with local health bodies. Tetanus vaccination should be up to date, with consideration also given to the need for polio, typhoid fever, Hepatitis-A and Hepatitis-B vaccinations,” the guidelines say.
From normal sanitation workers, to those who are still doing the manual scavenging of drains and holes, the apathy is said to be the same, with authorities shutting their eyes when it comes to the health of such workers.
Importantly, manual scavenging which has been banned by the Supreme Court of India in 2014 has put no impact on the ground in the state.
Though, SMC is carrying out the scavenging through suction pumps, “but at several instances it (SMC) is resorting to the manual scavenging, thus, risking the lives of their workers, who have not even been trained to deal with the situation post-scavenging to prevent themselves and other workers from catching any infection,” sources informed.
The workers assigned for manual scavenging, as per the guidelines, are at risk of getting infected with a variety of viral diseases such as: Gastroenteritis, infectious hepatitis, Aseptic meningitis, respiratory diseases, and poliomyelitis besides bacterial infections such as salmonellosis, cholera and shigellosis.
Commissioner, SMC Riyaz Ahmad Wani did not respond to numerous phone calls from his reporter to get his comments on the issue.