Five workers died after inhaling toxic gas while cleaning an underground tank at a pharmaceutical unit in Gujarat's Gandhinagar district on Saturday, November 6, an official from the fire department said.
The incident occurred at an effluent treatment plant of the pharmaceutical unit in Kalol taluka in the afternoon, chief fire officer of Gandhinagar Mahesh Mod said.
The deceased were identified as Vinay Kumar, Sushi Bhai, Devendra Kumar, Anish Kumar, and Rajan Kumar. All of them were aged between 30 and 35, reported India Today. Mod said that as the plant was shut on Saturday and the management had decided to clean the tank, which stores the factory's liquid waste before it is sent for treatment. Although there was hardly any liquid waste in the tank, the workers were unaware of the presence of toxic gas inside it, he added.
No Safety Equipment
While one of the workers fainted inside the tank, four others entered one after another to rescue him and eventually died because of the toxic fumes, he said. These workers were not provided with any safety equipment or masks by the factory owners.
Sewer deaths are not new, however. In August, the Centre told Parliament that 941 workers died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last three decades. Union social justice minister Virendra Kumar said, "There is no report of death due to manual scavenging. However, we have reports regarding deaths of workers while being engaged in cleaning of sewers or septic tanks," he said, listing out 941 deaths since 1993, when manual scavenging was first banned."
They come in direct contact with human waste and toxic gases and are often at risk of chronic diseases. Even though there are special rules mandating safe working conditions for sanitation workers, they are often violated. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 prohibits manual cleaning of toilet wastes, sewers, and septic tanks without safety gear and mechanise equipment.
The law protects both municipal employees and casual workers employed by contractors hired by government agencies. Civic agencies have to provide equipment such as pumps at dangerous sites like clogged sewers. But contractors do not want to spend on safety equipment.
A large number of sub-castes of the Dalit community are engaged in such work and they are often subjected to humiliation. The average life expectancy of sanitation workers is 40-45 years. This is lower than the national average of 70 years. Further, they experience high rates of prolonged illness and mortality because of the work they do. Work-related mortality is high: 375-475 people who work in manual scavenging died on the job over the past five years, primarily due to asphyxiation while cleaning sewers and septic tanks.
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