Safety becomes a casualty for manhole workers
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 Kariya, a sanitary worker with the Bangalore Water Supply and Drainage Board (BWSSB). 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. Officials claim that the workers do not use the safety equipment provided. Defending their decision a sanitary worker in Malleswaram said that working with a mask and gloves is a hindrance in their work.
Stating that the two workers who died at Yelahanka on Friday were hired on a contract basis, the BWSSB authorities however emphasised that all their staff were trained.
"The methane that is present in the manhole is explosive and our workers are trained to check the concentration before entering the manhole. After opening the lid of a manhole, it should be kept open for at least 30 minutes and then throw a lighted match inside. If there is methane, it burns out and then the sanitary workers can enter the manhole. This is one of the methods followed in the absence of gas detecting devices," explained the officials.
"We have experienced sanitary workers but the incident that happened yesterday was an accident. In other countries, the workers who carry out a similar job have advanced protective technology and in our country we are yet to move beyond basic equipment like gloves, masks and boots," the officials said. It is, however, to be noted that the BWSSB is equipped with 45 jetting machines. And these machines are mostly in use to perform most of the minor works.
The workers descend into the manhole only on the non-availability of the machine or if its a major work.