Monday June 24, 2024

Sanitary workers

By Editorial Board
April 01, 2023

The notice taken by the Sindh High Court of the situation of sanitary workers who put their own lives at risk while cleaning out sewers, manholes and other parts of the sanitation system is to be welcomed. The court is hearing a petition moved by a private citizen which noted that sanitary workers had no protective gear to guard them against the effluents emitted from manholes, poisonous gases also found in the sanitation system and from syringes, razor blades and other items dropped into it, putting their health at risk.

This is an important matter. There is a need to ensure these workers – who perform such an important civic task – are safe and well looked after. The court has also noted that a notification issued by the chief secretary and the local government in March on the issue is not sufficient and that urgent action is required. Our priorities are often skewed and few of us think of just what kind of work sanitary workers perform when they go down a manhole and face the filth of an entire city. We need to think with greater empathy of their situation and put in place requirements that can make their task a little bit easier and safer.

Indeed, this is true not only of sanitary workers but also of the repairmen and others who work on high power cables, commercial poles and piped gas systems. They too are not protected and often have no rubber boots or gloves to save them from possible electrocution. But sanitary workers are an ignored group with no one really taking responsibility for their plight. While all of us react quickly to a blocked gutter and the problems this creates within domestic or industrial settings, few of us think of just what kind of conditions sanitary workers are compelled to work in an age when around the world machines are picking up more and more of the task of cleaning out sewers and manholes and not leaving it to men forced to go down into the darkness mainly because they have no other means to earn a living and live lives of acute deprivation. Indeed, the most deprived take up jobs in the sanitary system and as citizens, it is essential that we try to persuade – indeed force – the government to offer them protection that they badly need until they can reach a situation where their services can be made safer through the use of modern equipment.