Occupational health and safety status of waste and sanitation workers:A qualitative exploration during the COVID-19 pandemic across Bangladesh

Sharior, Fazle and Alam, Mahbub-Ul and Zaqout, Mariam and Cawood, Sally and Ferdous, Sharika and Shoaib, Dewan Muhammad and Tidwell, James B and Hasan, Mehedi and Hasan, Moushumi and Rahman, Mahbubur and Farah, Makfie and Rahman, Md. Azizur and Ahmed, Alauddin and Ahmed, Tanvir (2023) Occupational health and safety status of waste and sanitation workers:A qualitative exploration during the COVID-19 pandemic across Bangladesh. PLOS Water, 2 (1).

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In Bangladesh, cities produce huge volumes of solid waste, sewage, and greywater with limited resources to manage it. Waste and sanitation workers, key players in managing waste, are continuously exposed to different health hazards in their work due to lack of occupational safety and basic protections. This vulnerability has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Focusing on workers’ experiences and everyday working realities, this study sought to assess the organizational capacity, gaps, and challenges of local waste management authorities during COVID-19. It also sought to deepen understanding of job arrangements, occupational safety, hygiene knowledge, and practices of these waste workers at their workplace. A qualitative study was conducted consisting of 61 key informant interviews with seven categories of local officials and 50 in-depth interviews with five categories of waste and sanitation workers in 10 cities of Bangladesh. An inductive content analysis approach was adopted. The results showed that COVID-19 had aggravated the existing waste management challenges and imposed severe health risks on waste workers. Respective conservancy departments lagged behind due to lack of safe cleaning methods and equipment, and limited funds for waste worker training, which ultimately led to poor occupational safety for workers. This vulnerable worker group lacked basic job facilities, received poor payment and insufficient protective equipment, and rarely had any health support from their employers. Also, they were not provided with an adequate understanding of occupational safety and health hygiene; and no appropriate handwashing facilities at their workplace to tackle infectious diseases like COVID-19. The study investigated this countercomplaint and discussed the current arrangements from the prespective of both city authorities and waste workers. The study recommended more automated waste collectors and compositors for the conservancy departments, increased active monitoring, work benefits, safety equipment for waste workers, and tailored training to eradicate work-related health hazards and injuries.

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Journal Article
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PLOS Water
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08 Feb 2023 14:15
Last Modified:
17 Sep 2023 03:23