Manhole Workers Dodge Danger Down Under

S. Krishnan


We hold our breath, close our eyes and move on with the job to dislodge the block. It is not easy to enter the dark drain and we are trapped inside for hours at times. This is just one harrowing tale of any sanitary workers in any part of the country.” There are many more awaiting to be told and heard. The manholes, which these workers deal upon, are poisonous gas chambers and as if working under such inhumane conditions is not enough, there are serious safety issues cropping up. With no safety equipments provided, the workers descend into the manhole.  The occupational exposures of sewage workers are complex and variable, and include a great variety of biological and chemical agents. Previous research has focused mostly on infections and various symptoms among sewage workers, e.g. abdominal and respiratory symptoms. A roughly estimated 1.2 million scavengers in the country are involved in the sanitation of our surroundings. The working conditions of these sanitary workers have remained virtually unchanged for over a century. Apart from the social atrocities that these workers face, they are exposed to certain health problems by virtue of their occupation. These health hazards include exposure to harmful gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide, cardiovascular degeneration, musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritic changes and intervertebral disc herniation, infections like hepatitis, leptospirosis and helicobacter, skin problems, respiratory system problems and altered pulmonary function parameters. This can be prevented through engineering, medical and legislative measures. While the engineering measures will help in protecting against exposures, the medical measures will help in early detection of the effects of these exposures. This can be partly achieved by developing an effective occupational health service for this group of workers.

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