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Sanitary workers now safe, but far from healthy

In addition to having to dispose the filth left behind by the city’s population, sanitary workers of Lahore are also risking their lives as they still lack the necessary health facilities to keep them safe.

The workers complain that standard operating procedures recently issued for them by the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) are merely a cosmetic measure and proper medical care is the need of the hour.

WASA Phool Union CBA President Rana Muhammad Iqbal, while speaking to The Express Tribune, says most of the sanitary workers employed by the agency are suffering from tuberculosis and other diseases which they caught from sewers or drains. Some workers have even lost their lives on duty and finally machinery was introduced to clean the manholes.

“They catch various skin and respiratory diseases, but the company has still not paid any attention. On various occasions, the management promised to provide better healthcare facilities to workers, but they never fulfil their promises.”

According to a WASA spokesman, sometimes there is no oxygen in manholes due to which workers can lose their lives. “Over the years, they have learnt how to check the availability of oxygen in the manhole,” he says. “They put a burning paper in the manhole and if it extinguishes, they understand there is no oxygen inside. As a result, precautionary are adopted by them to avoid accidents,” he adds.

The agency has provided gas detectors and other safety gear for field workers in all subdivisions, but despite repeated directions they are still not using the equipment, he says.

“They consider the safety gear, belts, hats, goggles and oxygen cylinders as a hurdle in the performance of their duties,” he states. “However, use of the latest machinery has almost eliminated the chance of fatal accidents because people hardly need to go into the manholes,” he adds. “Most of the work was done with machines as each subdivision had a jet and a suction machine.”

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The agency recently introduced new SOPs which order all sanitary workers not to go into manholes without gas detectors and safety belts. It adds a few members of the staff must be available outside the manhole to deal with any emergency-like situation. Sludge sucker machinery will be used to de-silt necessary and there should be winch machinery on hand for tube de-silting.

WASA Managing Director Zahid Aziz reveals these SOPs will strictly be implemented to ensure the safety of all workers and has warned strict action against officials who show negligence on duty.

Reporter. Sanitary workers now safe, but far from healthy. The Express Tribune, July 5, 2017.

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