Sanitation workers in Bangladesh do a job no one else wants yet one that is essential for public health. They are ostracised by society and work under extremely hazardous conditions that can end in death all too often. A report published last week by the World Health Organisation (WHO) titled “Health, Safety and Dignity of Sanitation Workers – An Initial Assessment” tells us that local sanitation workers are lacking in job skills, basic education, and more often than not, inherit the profession from their parents. While significant progress has been made in the overall sanitation situation in Bangladesh, these workers are looked at with disdain by other people, and yet, they fulfil an essential function in keeping our sewage lines functioning.
They are employed by subcontractors and work as sewer cleaners, where they dive into the pools of human waste without any protective gear. The buildup of methane gas and other poisonous fumes often end in loss of consciousness in the best-case scenario and death in the worst. Though sanitation work is touted as a formal job, the reality is that these sanitation workers do not enjoy any legal protection whatsoever as they are mostly employed on a contractual basis and hence are not secured by labour laws. So, in case of any injury resulting from the work they do, they are not eligible for any compensation.
Prolonged exposure to toxic fumes results in physical and medical issues. These include from the mild—headaches, dizziness, fever—to the more serious conditions like, cholera, gastroenteritis, hepatitis, polio, etc. Seldom do we wonder how our garbage and liquid waste are taken care of. The workers keeping the city clean deserve to be recognised. Without them, no urban centre would be liveable and it is time to take cognizance of their service to the city by giving them due credit and formalising their services as city corporation workers with proper benefits.