Sanitation workers are the backbone of our country. Without them working disregarding their own health and safety, survival would be impossible in most of the cities in the country. During the current crisis caused because of COVID-19 pandemic, the roles of sanitation workers are as important as those of doctors or other healthcare workers.
Sanitation workers are subjected to uncertainty constantly as they are supposed to clean the unsanitary places leaving them vulnerable to infection. Many-a-times, they are made to do this without any safety equipment. The case of Pooja Lakhan from Rajasthan, who was made to pack a dead body of a COVID-19 infected patient without any safety equipment whatsoever highlights the negligence these heroes suffer through from the hands of administration as well as the society.
The sanitation workers are highly ill-informed about the options at hand such as public health facilities, insurance or other government schemes for their protection in case they are infected with Coronavirus. This is especially true for female sanitation workers who are more than 2 million in numbers.
In order to protect them, their families and all the people they usually tend to come in contact with, it is important to take the following steps and ensure that they are well and safe.
PPE and other safety equipment
PPE kits are now manufactured in India and are compulsory for all hospital and health care workers. These kits protect a person from coming in immediate contact with an infected patient and thus helps in breaking the chain. These kits should be provided to the sanitation workers too and be made compulsory for them. The Maharashtra government has asked all Urban Local Bodies to use the Fourteenth Finance Commission funds to purchase PPE for sanitation workers and allowed sanitation workers to work in shifts. Companies are using their CSR funds to provide for PPE kits and masks for healthcare workers. They can use them to provide the same for the sanitation workers as well.
In addition to these, the workers need to be provided with other safety equipment so that they are protected from unnecessary risks while working.
Support for Lodging, Food and Finances
The sanitation workers often come into direct contact with COVID-19 patients or with things used by infected patients. While this may or may not cause the infection, but they may end up becoming carriers of the infection. In such a scenario, it might be dangerous for them to return home to their families which may have members with low immunity, children or elderly who are at high risk.
The workers may not have anywhere else to go or have no money to make alternative arrangements for themselves. Many non-profits are working towards providing them with lodging facilities, food for them and their families and financial support. Government support should be ensured for such organizations. CSR funds should also be allocated towards the cause. Even citizens and local communities can participate in this activity.
Beyond these basic things, it is important to bestow the sanitation workers with dignity. A person cannot survive without his/her pride. It is therefore inhuman to hurt anyone’s pride. Least of all of the people without whose contribution a society would cease to exist.