Mumbai Port Trust cementing road to disease for workers?

Apr 11, 2015, 07:10 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

The Mumbai Port Trust issued a circular in 2012 specifying safety measures for workers handling cement cargoes, but the entity is flouting its own norms to the detriment of its workforce

Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) authorities have been neglecting the health of the workers who handle cement bags at warehouses in the port trust area of Wadi Bunder.

Workers at a Mumbai Port Trust cement warehouse at Wadi Bunder working without safety gear
Workers at a Mumbai Port Trust cement warehouse at Wadi Bunder working without safety gear

A circular issued by MbPT in June 2012 states that safety gear including full-body safety clothing with a mask covering the mouth and nose should be provided to the workers, but when mid-day visited a cement warehouse at Wadi Bunder (near Reay Road station) on Wednesday, we found that the reality is starkly different. Clad in just t-shirts and shorts, workers are exposed to multiple health hazards (see box) every day.

Labourers are not supposed to idle in places where cement is handled, but no other facility has been provided. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Labourers are not supposed to idle in places where cement is handled, but no other facility has been provided. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Just words?
The MbPT circular hits all the right notes: “It is observed by the Safety team of Mumbai Port Trust that handling of cement bags is not being carried out in an environment -friendly manner, thereby posing a health hazard to the workers handling cement.”

It goes on to list a host of measures for preserving the health of these workers, along with suggestions for better handling of cement cargo. For example, the circular says that “cement handling workers should be provided full body covering cloth” and “they sho-uld be advised to take bath after handling cement, so as to minimise skin contact”. Workers are also not supposed to “idle/rest/eat in the shed where cement is being handled.”

“All the workers engaged in handling cement should be provided mouth pads (covering mouth and nose) and there should be constant supervision to ensure that workers are using mouth pads so as to prevent ingesting and inhalation of cement dust,” the circular goes on to add. But the ground reality is completely different. Workers do not have any safety clothing or masks, and were seen sitting in the same premises where the cement is handled.

Worker speak
mid-day tried to speak with the workers we spotted near one of the cement-handling units. Many of them refused to comment when asked about the lack of safety gear. Requesting anonymity, a worker said, “We are not provided with any masks to cover our face and nose but we, personally, take care of our health because we know the hazards of working in cement handling as it can lead to respiratory disorders.

We wash our hands and legs soon after we finish our job. But sometimes, we have to wait here for our work and we cannot clean up. In the past, our fellow workers have fallen ill due to working in such a hazardous environment but we cannot do much because we don’t have any other option.”

There was also a lot of cement spillage around the warehouse where the cement was handled, and it did not look like the area was being washed on a daily basis. Requesting anonymity, a person working with MbPT’s coal handling unit said, “MbPT handles one million tonnes of cement per day, which means one train rake a day, and the same is then transported all over Mumbai and even outside.

Around 500 to 1,000 trucks move around in the area, causing serious air pollution. What is more worrying is that a lot of spillage takes place because of cement handling and no cleaning is done.” The official added that the workers are exposed to ailments like silicosis but the authorities are not concerned.

The other side
V R Joglekar, Chief PRO, MbPT, told mid-day, “I have asked the concerned officials to provide me with the information and I can comment only after going through that”. According to estimates, around 800-1,000 workers handle cement at MbPT on a daily basis.

Expert speak
“The smaller dust particles in cement used for construction can enter the lung through the respiratory system and cause a range of respiratory ailments, aggravate issues like asthma or lower the defence mechanism of the lungs, making the person vulnerable to tuberculosis. The most hazardous is cement high on silica, which can lead to silicosis (an irreversible lung condition with no cure).

Silicosis can further escalate into fibrosis, a more violent version of the disease, where the only concrete cure is lung transplant,” said Dr Ashok Mahashur, M.B.B.S., M.D. (Chest Disease And Tuberculosis) and Consultant Chest Physician at P D Hinduja Hospital.

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