By Mofor Samuel
Compared to other areas- such as Reproductive health – considerable successes have been observed with high antenatal and vaccination coverage rates, problems particularly persist in the area of environmental and occupational health. Most workers particularly in the informal sector’s activities often toil for low wages, under poor and inhumane working conditions and in an unhealthy environment. Enforcement and compliance with healthy standards are unknown.
Disposal of human excreta in slum areas often takes place in open places and fields. This leads to contamination of water which is a serious source of disease in our towns and big cities as evidenced by persistence of diarrhoeal diseases- (cholera).
Most urban sewage is discharged untreated into the nearest waterway.
There is inadequate clean water supply both in urban and rural areas and poor healthcare waste management of all categories. Factories and industries release large quantities of heavy metals, toxic chemicals, solid, liquid, gaseous and hazardous waste in the open. This leads to environmental pollution. Cases of poisoning have been reported in some fishing areas.
Residents and employees are exposed to hazard toxic environmental and occupational pollutants through physical, biological, chemical and psychological hazards.
Workers are often exposed to variation in temperatures (heat rain, cold etc); noise, foreign bodies, burns, respiratory problems, parasitic infestations, cuts, amputation(due to unguarded machinery); paints (acids), long hours of work etc. Air pollution from automobiles is increasing in the big towns and cities. Despite the problems faced by residents and employees from pollutants, epidemiological information and environmental data management is weak.
In spite of this weakness, a close look at the informal sector in Cameroon for example as far as occupational health and safety are concerned, the following characteristics are very glaring: many small scale entrepreneurs use obsolete production methods and substitute raw materials of inferior quality; multiple exposure to different hazards occur, especially in cluster zones, due to an excessive number of both people and products in the workplaces; all processes are carried out at the same place at the same time.
This produces a lot of noise beyond the recommended maximum noise level. There is a lack of welfare facilities and services in the workplaces; sanitary facilities are non-existent at roadside and open –air enterprises and workshops; premises are very makeshift, and most workers are exposed to all types of weather. For those working in proper buildings, the workplaces are not designed to be used as workplace and often do not have adequate facilities; workers in premises near rivers face
additional problems of insect bites- mosquito bites; workplaces are poorly lit and ventilated; there is a lack of healthy drinking water and washing facilities; a lack of firefighting appliances and occupational accidents and diseases are rarely reported and never compensated.
It has been noticed that workers particularly in the informal sector are exposed to various environmental and occupational health hazards due to ignorance coupled with a lack of skilled training. There are also some problems in human settlement development including housing and inadequate private sector and community participation.
Specific improvement that can be implemented in small scale enterprises, workshops in general and in the informal sector in particular includes: the provision of tool racks for easy storage and retrieval, clearing of materials not in immediate use from work area to create more room and improve work flow; making path ways for better layout, fitting guards on machines such as those used for trimming, grinding etc. The guards limit unauthorized removal, provision of fire extinguisher, removal of waste from working areas, introduction of scrap and waste control, making the use of security gadgets in workshops obligatory, control of noise from grinding, trimming and other machines by means of enclosure.
Government must endeavour as a matter of principle to collect, analyze, disseminate consistent, disaggregated statistics on safety, health and welfare in the informal sector in particular. These statistics will enable government to identify specific policies and programmes to meet the unmet needs of workers’ communities in the informal sector.