Improper implementation of occupational health and safety guidelines, subpar Private Protective Equipments are the main reason.
Bengaluru, 24th September: Bangalore waste segregators work without safety equipment due to lack of awareness and ineffective implementation of labour laws in the city.
“This lack of adequate personal protective equipment poses a serious risk to their occupational health, and can lead to the onset of chronic conditions like skin allergies and respiratory diseases,” said Karthik Natarajan, who follows health and safety of waste workers on behalf of HasiruDala.
Sajan, a migrant worker from Assam who works at a solid waste segregation unit in Koramangala, said, “I have been working here for two years, making Rs. 500 a day. The safety equipment is not provided every day, only once or twice a week.”
According to a National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog report from 2021, Bangalore is the sixth-highest generator of solid waste in India, per capita, per day. Of this, 53 percent waste is segregated and processed. Two units for dedicated solid waste management have been set up by the Indian Tobacco Company (ITC) Limited in partnership with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP): one in Koramangala and one in Bidadi. Though the units are capable of segregating around 5 – 10 tonnes of waste per day, the segregation workers often sort through it with their bare hands, without masks or any other form of protective gear.
Karnataka’s Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code of 2021 specifies the duty of every employer to provide and maintain a safe and risk-free environment for its employees, even if they are unskilled labourers and daily-wage workers.
The Ward Coordinator for the Koramangala unit, Halesh, however, said, “PPEs are provided every day, but the workers hesitate to wear them on a regular basis.”
At the Bidadi Unit, the story does not differ much. Though the plant is much more sophisticated, making use of balers, conveyor belts and other modern technology, employees still work without adequate personal protective equipment. The unit’s project manager, Prajwal VS, however, said that the health and safety of their workers is a top priority.
“We have compliance with the Employees State Insurance Corporation. We ensure that the health of our employees is well-maintained by providing all health benefits. We also ensure that they are using PPEs while they are working with the waste,” he explained.
Research has shown that in India, staff working with solid waste management is not adequately informed about the associated health risks of their jobs.
Dr. Akshatha, who works closely with sanitation workers, explained that even though they might get private protecting equipment, it is often inadequate for the health risks that waste workers face.
“Surgical masks don’t serve the purpose. They might need masks with triple-layered protection.”
Solid waste segregation plants produce a lot of toxic gases like methane and hydrogen sulphide, which make surgical masks insufficient. Allergic reactions to fine dust are a persistent cause which triggers respiratory tract infections, she said.
“Latex gloves, too, need to be constantly changed. If they are not wearing the appropriate protective gear, they tend to hurt themselves which can turn fatal in the long run,” she added.
The reason behind the inadequate availability of the safety equipment lies in the lack of proper implementation of labour laws by individual contractors, said Ramesh Reddy, a junior health assistant from the Solid Waste Management Department of the BBMP. He also said that the issue is being looked into and will be taken care of soon.