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No safety gear for sanitation workers
Govt is taking some steps to care for conservancy staff, yet many don’t have basic facilities like proper equipment, gloves or masks
Close to 19,000 employees, including garbage truck drivers, sweepers and door-to-door collection agents, work to maintain the city’s cleanliness. They help clear 5,400 tonnes of garbage and 700 tonnes of debris every day. However, they allege the Corporation’s solid waste management and health departments don’t do enough to ensure their health and safety.
Revathi and Devi drag their brooms and aluminium basket across the street in Besant Nagar (Zone 13 - Adyar), while complaining about the heat. Clad in blue sarees and orange jackets, they collect dry leaves, trash and dust off the roads and dump it into a tricycle at the end of the street operated by Ramesh (name changed). “We toil for six hours a day in this heat but resist drinking water because there aren’t any clean public toilets forus to use,” said Revathi, a contractually hired worker. She earns less than Rs 250 a day for the work she does, said the single mother of two.
The women don’t wear any safety equipment while on duty and when asked why, they said, “We either don’t or very rarely receive safety kits that contain sturdy gloves, masks and safety jackets.” They are prone to injury almost every day because of this, as they have to manually transfer trash from the baskets to the tricycle at times — including broken bottles, sanitary napkins, soiled diapers, other sharp objects and rotten food. “We are given flimsy slippers to wear instead of closed shoes so, at times, thorns and pieces of glass pierce through our feet,” added Ramesh.
Duraisamy (name changed), who drives a garbage truck, suffers similarly. “I feel hurt when I see the public cringe and cover their noses when the truck passes by or stops for collection. Imagine my state then. I have a mask to wear but it doesn’t keep out the stench. I suffer from headaches nearly every day but am scared to find out why,” said the 43-year-old adding, “The smell of garbage doesn’t leave me even after I go home and bathe twice.”
The fault doesn’t lie only with the government; it lies with the workers, too, said an official from the solid waste management department. “We periodically conduct health camps for all conservancy workers in the city. Welfare measures are also being given such as hand gloves, masks, slippers and soaps every few months as per norm. Some workers don’t wear the safety equipment despite our insistence or don’t bother attending the camps,” he said.
Health check-ups are conducted once in six months for both permanent and contractual employees. “We run basic investigations like blood and urine tests and probe further when required. Some special features like cervical cancer detection tests for women, ECG for cardiac symptomatic patients and counselling for alcoholics in de-addiction centres is also carried out,” said an officer from the Public Health Department.
If abnormalities are found, the conservancy worker is referred to tertiary care hospitals. He said, “The concerned zonal health officer maintains records of the total number of employees examined, for how many of them blood/urine tests were done, how many X-rays were taken and so on. We follow up frequently during the treatment.”
Agents of cleanliness
- Permanent workers: 6,990
- Non Muster Roll (NMR) workers: 545
- Temporary staff under NULM scheme: 8,171
- Ramky: 3,403
(Source: Corpn website)
What they do
- Sweeping, collecting, and storing the waste in the specified bins
- Door-to-door collection of garbage
- Street collection to transfer stations
- Transportation to transfer stations and then to disposal site
Equipment given for collection
- Coco brooms
- Aluminium baskets
- Iron plates (penku)
- Containerised push carts
- Tricycles with bins
- Roto mould wheeled bins