Feasibility of Solutions to Improve Occupational Safety of Desludging Workers

4 Poster Track: Applied Research » 4 Health, safety and hygiene

Speaker: Srinithi Sudhakar

Summary – for publication in conference brochure:

A study was conducted to identify feasibility of measures to address three key safety concerns that emerged from an earlier study: physical injury, exposure to harmful gases, lack of oxygen, contact with fecal sludge and other medical emergencies. These measures followed the safety pyramid, and include preventative, mitigative and protective measures, ensuring access to appropriate tools, PPE based on field testing, modifications to existing PPE, tools to ensure better functionality and developing safety protocols besides communication with citizens and workers. Trainings to regularise usage of recommended PPE, tools, protocols and handle emergencies through customised first aid kits are planned.

Introduction, methods, results and discussion:

Occupational safety of de-sludging workers is a key concern with workers prone to physical injuries, skin infections, exposed to harmful gases/ or lack of oxygen and other medical emergencies. In the first phase, the study used the occupational safety controls pyramid (prevention, mitigation and protection), and identified a range of preventive measures by eliminating manual interventions through machines, mitigating risks following safety protocols, using safety equipment and protecting workers with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and first aid kits. A paper was presented on this in FSM 5.

The second phase of the study identified feasibility of these measures for implementation and scaling. These included:

1. Testing of Tools:  Motorised drain cleaners and jetting machines which work on the principle of force and drilling, and different types of drain cleaning rods have been field tested to remove stubborn blockages (which emerged as a key area requiring human/manual intervention). These tools and equipment are also being used for manhole cleaning in sewerage systems, and will be adapted if needed.

Another key safety concern is release of harmful gases and/ or lack of oxygen. To safely assess the presence of harmful gases/ absence of oxygen in septic tanks multiple options such as gold film sensors, colorimetric gas detection tubes, electrochemical cells, H2S gas monitor were considered in the field testing.  Based on field testing, blueprints of simple sensor-based gas monitors for assessing the presence of harmful gases are being developed in discussion with the de-sludging workers.  The de-sludging workers are also being oriented to use the existing suction hoses of the vehicle to apply the forced air ventilation technique or reverse mechanism feature which removes the gases safely.

2. Testing of existing PPE available in the market: Based on interactions with de-sludging workers and observation of the de-sludging process, the priority set of PPE namely gloves, masks, goggles, boots, reflective jackets and head bands were finalised for field testing. Different models and typologies of these PPE were field tested to understand usability concerns. This exercise resulted in i) shortlisting and broad specifications of PPE ii) design adaptations for PPE.

While field testing options for appropriate PPE, the limitations of the existing PPE (eg.poor grip) were documented. Based on field testing, PPE design adaptations are being articulated into concept sketches for ensuring worker acceptance and enhanced utility. The sketches for gloves include features such as extendable waterproof attachment to be pulled up to forearm for protection against sludge, velcro band to fasten gloves and waterproof attachment, and elastic cuffs for good grip. For boots, bendable soles, waterproof material, elastic feature for easy wearing/removal and extendable waterproof attachment for protection in rains are some options considered. With respect to clothes, stain-repellent and waterproof fabric are being explored.

3. First Aid Kit and Emergency Protocols: To equip de-sludging workers to handle emergencies, a customised first aid kit with 31 items including essential medical supplies was procured. The workers were familiarised with the kit and its usage through trainings and mock drills.

Conclusions and implications:

This study shifts the lens from the issue of only PPE to a broader perspective of creating an enabling environment by prioritising prevention and mitigation measures.

There is a sense of complacency and unfamiliarity in adapting to new safety measures. Hence, a set of safety protocols detailing safe operating procedures for workers to adopt and standard protocols for use and maintenance of recommended PPE, tools, equipment and first aid kits have been developed for dissemination and trainings.

Trainings to ensure workers adopt safe practices, PPE and tools and subsequently streamline these into their regular work system have been planned around:

·         Usage and maintenance of PPE;

·         Techniques for blockage removal, assessing presence of harmful gases and air ventilation using recommended safety equipment;

·         Usage of first aid kit and first aid trainings with safety experts to equip workers to handle emergencies; and

·         Implementing safety protocols during de-sludging process.

Both protocols and trainings will be developed using multi-media, to address the challenge of low literacy levels among workers as well as to retain their interest.

Successful implementation of any intervention will have to incorporate the safety significance through behaviour change among all stakeholders such as desludging workers, drivers and owners, and society.

Relevant references:

The Hierarchy of Controls

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