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On the need for health, safety measures to protect waste management workers

The growth in the population of Lagos State in the last couple of decades has had a telling impact on the mega-city’s ability to manage waste. With an estimated population of about 21 million people, the state grapples daily with per-capita waste generation of 0.5Kg per day or 10,000 tons of urban waste.

This poses serious threats to the workers charged with the responsibility of managing this waste. This was disclosed by Lanre Mojola, director-general/CEO of Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC), at the recently concluded Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Summit, themed; HSE in our DNA: Recycling to Wealth.

The summit is a collaborative effort of organisations like the Century Group, the Lagos State government, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Recyclers Association of Nigeria, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC), to mention a few.

According to Mojola, “Waste management workers are exposed to job hazards and risks, including but not limited to, musculoskeletal disorders from manual handling, working postures, vibrations from work dumper trucks and work equipment and health disorders due to exposure to chemical substances, biological agents and pollution.

“These risks also include physical risks due to mechanical hazards and psychological & mental effects. In Lagos State, we have started the journey of ensuring waste workers are fully protected to prevent them from these dangers.”

Stressing on the need to protect workers, Mojola noted at a few activities in the waste management supply chain leave workers vulnerable to occupational hazards. “Based on our classification, the main areas we consider as huge in posing huge risks to waste handlers are in storage, collection, and transportation, processing and sorting. In terms of processing and sorting, there is a huge issue around protecting waste handlers in the state. There is a need for waste handlers to understand the risks of unsafe handling of waste.”

Globally, the issue of health and safety of waste management workers is a concern. There were 6.05 deaths from work-related incidents per 100,000 workers according to data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK government agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, and for research into occupational risks in Great Britain. In the United States, at least 30 sanitation workers died from on-the-job injuries in the first seven months of 2019, according to analysis done by the Solid Waste Association of North America.

In April 2020, the Lagos State Traffic Officer, Oriyomi Oluwasanmi, confirmed that a utility vehicle crushed to death, a female waste management worker in the state.

On the activities of the Lagos State government to protect waste management workers, Mojola noted that the Commission in partnership with the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), has trained 600 road sweepers, training of operatives through waste handling, plant operator and first aid certifications. This initiative has also included the issuance of safety compliance certificates, inspection of waste sorting facilities and provision of advisory services, enforcement of use of PPE and development of regulations and legislation.

In his welcome address at the event, one of its conveners, Ken Etete, praised the efforts of the Summit partners including the Lagos State government, the DPR, Recyclers Association of Nigeria, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC), to mention a few. He noted that there is a compelling economic need to move the HSE debate from a need to meet compliance requirements to an opportunity to create economic value.

A total of 10 participants won Recycling Entrepreneurship training valued at about N2,500,000 while several others won 50% IOSH membership discounts and training with Combined Training Solutions.

It is the vision of the organizers of the Summit that the presentations and training initiatives will benefit the youth, regardless of discipline and educational background to recognise and embrace revenue generating and employment opportunities in HSE practice.

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