AIRBORNE: ENDANGERED LABORERS

Our work defines our lives.

An even bigger reason to take care of ourselves at the workplace.

But what happens is the very processes that define our work make it risky?

Such is the plight of workers in several industries.

PSV OPERATORS

Take PSV operators for instance or what we call ‘Matatu’ touts and drivers.

For many of them, old and beat up vehicles are their offices day in day out.

They wake up everyday to bid their children farewell…

They rush to work not knowing that everyday exposure to diesel exhaust fumes might be a source of concern in the long run.

True, there are those whose immune systems beat the scourge brought about by particulates, polycyclics and carbon-monoxide contained in the fumes.

But a number of them (including passengers) are still vulnerable to respiratory problems in the future if this is their daily routine.

This is not to mention pedestrians who are always on the side of the roads such as small scale business men and women.

But how could we solve this monumental problem?…

You might ask…

Well, there are no straight and easy answers but ensuring that vehicles allowed on our streets have good, functional engines is a good place to start from.

Besides, usage of unadulterated fuel in the motor vehicle industry is key.

With the mushrooming of many ‘briefcase’ petroleum companies thriving on fuel siphoning and mixing, an even greater danger of incomplete combustion of fuel may lead to increased levels of dangerous airborne pollutants we all will be exposed to.

But PSV front is not the only one on the receiving end in the automobile sector.

GARAGE MECHANICS AND WELDERS

Rarely do we think much when we drive our cars to the nearby garage for service.

Mechanics, welders and other technicians put maximum effort in sorting out our vehicle issues because they need food on their tables at the end of the day after all.

Though some of them take the necessary measures to protect themselves from risks involved, those who face the day head on without any useful protective gear elevate their health risks without their knowledge.

Take for instance a welder who is deeply immersed in his job the whole day for 365 days in a year without the use of welding masks.

Being a high temperature process, one would not know the types of particulates or metallic fumes released by welding of different types of metals.

Of concern is the release of toxic metallic fumes such as those of cadmium, lead, arsenic, nickel which occur as trace contaminants in many metals.

So day in day out, welders who are committed to the job full time but with no personal protective equipment are exposed to potentially carcinogenic fumes composed of metallic dust and particulates.

As said before, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to such complex problems but a few strategies such as provision of protective equipment during work and staggering of work schedules to reduce continuous exposure might be necessary.

But as we enter the factory setting, several workers are worth considering when it comes to occupational safety.

Among them, perhaps workers in the steel, plastic, paints and tanning industries might attract greatest attention.

THE FACTORY

Factory processes involve the use of high tempreatures, pressures and special chemicals which might have far reaching health effects on factory workers if exposure is unchecked.

For example iron smelting/ steel production works employ the use of metallic additives and carbon which convert into risky particulates (PM 2.5) when exposed to very high temperatures.

These particulates might not be noticeable in ambient air simply because of their minute size.

However continuous inhalation over time might lead to respiratory problems, mental deterioration, organ failure and even cancer.

The need for personal protective equipment use by the workers cannot be over emphasized in this regard.

However, for the most part though some factory owners try their best to play by the book, others care less leading to exposure of already economically vulnerable workers and surrounding communities to the ravages of polluted air.

Which is why legislation and implementation of the same is top priority.

Some areas to consider legislatively could be in relation to reduction in toxic emmissions, availing of PPEs for steel workers, ensuring good chimney working conditions and ensuring a health cover targetting respiratory illnesses for the workers.

Paints, plastics and tanning workers are also another exposed lot when it comes to synthetic chemicals used in the industrial processes.

Exposure to substances such as volatile organic compounds, 1,3-butadiene, vinly chloride and hexavalent chromium put such workers at an elevated risk of health complications if the industrial processes do not follow protocols sensitive to occupational health.

It shouldn’t just stop at legislation but must it must involve implementation and law enforcement where necessary.

IN CONCLUSION

The informal worker occupies a unique place in our society because majority of Kenyans fend for their dependants through informal means.

That being said, effort must be put to safeguard him and his dependants from the ravages of a risky working environment.

He must be allowed to breathe fresh air because it is his heritage too.

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