The collection of post-consumer waste is handled by the informal waste management sector involving the poorest communities in Nepal. The human resources working in this sector are exposed to occupational vulnerabilities and compromised hygiene practices. Prolonged exposure to hazardous and infectious waste materials, sunlight, electrical and heavy-duty machinery operation, long and uneven working hours, poorly timed and unwholesome eating habits, accompanied by socio-economic and psychological stress are some of the factors contributing to their appalling quality of life. Consequently, they are subjected to higher occupational safety risks and health risks compared to other working sectors.
On the occasion of World Health Day 2021 (April 7), CREASION, in support of The Coca-Cola Foundation and Bottlers Nepal (Terai) Limited, organized a three-day Occupational Safety Training and Mobile Health Camp from April 6 to April 8, 2021, with an aim to formalize the informal waste management ecosystem, provide occupational safety training and a free health screening to the waste workers. The training was designed as a part of the Recycler Saathi 2.0 activity component - Strengthening of Baling Center and Informal Waste Workers. The team included a licensed doctor to reach out to a total of 74 waste workers at five different waste scrap centres in Satungal, Teku, Imadol, and Jorpati. The waste workers included young and middle-aged men and women.
The occupational safety training included a session to provide instructions to the waste workers on how to properly use safety amenities such as safety gear - shoes, gloves, mask, reflector jacket and cap, first aid, dignity kits and fire extinguishers, workplace etiquette, and basic hygiene awareness. The scraps centres were also equipped with safety amenities as a means to avoid workplace risks. In addition to that, as an awareness tool, infographics with the name of the scrap centre and basic safety protocols were also provided at each location.
The training was followed by a one-to-one basic health screening of each of the participants by Dr. Anuj Raj Kadel through the mobile health camp. The doctor also provided medical and psychological consultations as required. The most common issue among all the participants was high blood pressure caused by daily alcohol consumption, smoking and chewing tobacco. Similarly, few of them complained about back pains and body aches induced by heavy weight lifting, which could lead to problems associated with bad posture. Although none of the trainees were malnourished, most of them had problems caused by dehydration prompted by long working hours under direct sunlight. As a preventive measure, the doctor recommended all the participants get vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus, tetanus, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. The female waste workers were provided with reusable sanitary pads with its instruction to use and advantages. This session also shed light on the lack of knowledge about health care, sanitation, and food habits among the waste workers.
Besides training and health examination, the trainers connected with the waste workers to understand their working mechanism, the reason for joining the sector, and their opinion about the informal waste sector. One of the waste workers, Mr. Naresh Rokka said, “The salary that I get here as a waste collector is considerably higher than what I used to earn as a driver. My wife suggests that I stop working as a waste worker because of society’s perception towards waste workers but I don’t see a point in settling for less income because I don’t want my salary to be the reason why my children are denied a proper education.”
The training couldn’t be more apt considering the second wave of the COVID-19 virus. Now is the best time for the waste workers to make a move towards full implementation of the learnings to stay safe and secure while working in possible risky situations.