Several sanitisation workers of Eluru Municipal Corporation (EMC) in Andhra got burns and other injuries as they're allegedly forced to carry out COVID-19 disinfection drives without hand gloves and masks. The issue was brought to light on Wednesday, with local leaders of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions' (CITU) Municipal Workers Union reaching out to the Eluru Municipal Commissioner seeking safety equipment for workers.
Amidst concerns of the spread of COVID-19, Municipal authorities have taken up immediate disinfection and sanitisation drive across 50 corporation divisions in the city. On Monday, sanitation workers were asked to disinfect streets and street corners with bleaching powder. However, soon after the disinfection drive several workers developed burn wounds on their hands. Bleach is a highly hazardous chemical, if left on the skin it can cause irritation and burning besides developing breathing complications if inhaled.
.#Sanitisation workers of Eluru Municipal Corprn'(AP) were injured as they carried out #COVID19 disinfection drive without safety hand gloves & masks. #CITU leaders hve sought W'Godavari Collector to provide #safety equipment to workers.@thenewsminute @dhanyarajendran pic.twitter.com/nDPFtHCpJ6— CharanTeja (@CharanT16) March 26, 2020
Speaking to TNM, CITU and Municipal Workers’ Union president, Somayya Buddha said, "Across 50 divisions in Eluru Corporation limits, the sanitisation staff were not given any sort of safety gear. Around 15 workers were injured because of the negligence of authorities."
He added, "In the wake of COVID-19, everyone is talking about preventive measures, but there is no assurance of safety of sanitation workers. The government should immediately give them masks, gloves and required safety equipment."
When TNM reached out to COVID-19 District Nodal Officer, he directed us to the Commissioner of Eluru Municipal Corporation. Speaking to TNM, the Commissioner, D Chandrashekar said, "We are taking all precautionary measures, but this specific incident took place as the staff have used their hands directly without wearing gloves. It happened more than a week ago and we have provided them with enough medical treatment."
The Commissioner further added, "There is no shortage of safety gears as far as sanitation workers are concerned. They are also not working near any quarantine zones."
While the commissioner puts blame on the workers mishandling the chemical, speaking to TNM B Venkateshwara Rao (45), one of the severely affected sanitisation workers said that the officials have not given them hand gloves in advance and they had to work without any safety gear.
He said, "We were not given hand gloves or masks. We were working since Friday without proper protection. Though we used our own old gloves, they were not good enough. The bleach fell on our hands and we got wounds on our hands. Some other workers were also affected with rashes and irritation."
He further added, "We ourselves visited the doctor and took medicines. And we are doing ur regular work now.”
P Kishore, General Secretary Municipal Sanitation Workers Union speaking to TNM said, "If the officials had provided them safety gloves and masks, why would they use their bare hands? They are just blaming the innocent workers to cover up. Government should immediately provide all the necessary safety equipment and a month’s salary in advance."