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Safety of Sanitation Workers

The growing number of deaths of sanitation workers has shaken the conscience of everyone in the country. In light of the recent deaths, PRIA has come up with a list of recommendations drawing from our multi-pronged programmes that focus on articulating the voices of sanitation workers and taking a step towards empowering them through sharing the results with influential stakeholders. We recommend:

i) create awareness about laws like The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (the 2013 Act) and schemes like maternity benefits among sanitation workers and subsequently educate them to demand those rights and entitlements, including medical cover;

ii) make protective gears mandatory and improve their design which are very heavy for manual work;

iii) in view of the inhumane conditions of septic tanks and sewers, carry out periodic health surveillance of sanitary workers to detect early signs of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, TB, etc. among them and inform them regarding balanced diets and the risk of drug and alcohol abuse;

iv) identify the number of sanitation workers across India as no public document states the exact figure yet and no attempt has been made to get realistic statistics on the same; and

v) learn from developed countries where they have many more procedures and mechanical infrastructure to adhere to, including, bunny suits for manhole workers to avoid contact with contaminated sludge and water, proper lighting and mechanically aerated sewers ensuring enough oxygen, appropriate licensing practices and intensive training for sanitation workers, and various communication gadgets like walkie-talkies for sanitation workers while underground on work to call out for emergency induced rescue situations.

Apart from these, PRIA emphasizes changing attitudes towards sanitation workers. These workers invariably belong to the lowest rungs of Indian society. And there is a need to systematically address the caste-based discrimination both at the societal level as well as at the level of governance at the urban local body.

“Today, everyone is talking about clean and green India. But unless we take care of the people who will make it happen, we will miss our goal by a huge margin. The recent deaths of sanitation workers have shaken the conscience everyone in India, it is high time that we address the issue of their safety on a priority basis,” says Dr. Rajesh Tandon, Founder-President, PRIA.

Photo credit: By Claude Renault (extensive crop applied by uploader) - http://www.flickr.com/photos/clodreno/128136806/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=926784

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