Concerns raised for safety of dumpsite pickers

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…who scavenge through garbage for a living

Minister within the Communities Ministry, Dawn Hastings-Williams, has expressed concern for the safety of workers engaged in activities at the Haags Bosch Landfill site aback Eccles, East Bank Demerara after a visit to the facility on Friday.

About 40 ‘pickers’ per day scavenge through the dumpsite on a daily basis, searching for reusable materials and valuables among the piles of what have been discarded at the Haags Bosch facility, and what they earn for their activities is dependent on their findings among the garbage. The pickers are generally on the lookout for both plastic and glass bottles which can be resold for recycling or reusing. However, on a lucky day, pickers may come across valuables such as cash or jewelry which was mistakenly taken out in the trash.

Pickers scavenging through the garbage offloaded by the disposal trucks

These pickers ply their trade in a high-risk zone, made even more dangerous by the presence of heavy duty machinery. And they are also susceptible to a number of health threats, given the filthy environment in which they work.

While speaking to media operatives at the Eccles facilities on Friday, Minister Hastings-Williams highlighted her concerns after realising that such operations pose both health and safety hazards.

“My greatest concern is the health of the pickers. I think we need to have a proper system in place whereby we can monitor their health,” the minister expressed. “These are human beings just like us, and they find it a pleasure because they are working for survival.”

Minister Hastings-Williams even took the opportunity to speak with some of the pickers, and relayed what she was told by one of the workers. “He said he enjoys doing the work because it brings in dollars for him,” she reported.

The minister noted that the pickers provide a necessary service in the waste management system, and proper facilities should be in place to ensure the integrity of their health and safety, especially with the dangers existing at the dumpsite.

Accordingly, she posited, “We need to ensure that their social welfare, their health, is properly addressed, because they are doing work for us. We are putting out all the waste, and when it comes here, they do the separation.”

Commenting on the facilities provided for the pickers at the Haags Bosch landfill, Site Supervisor Lloyd Stanton outlined the precautions taken to ensure the safety of the workers.

“The pickers are not supposed to be working in close proximity (to) the machinery. We have two contractors that are supposed to be in place during the working hours of the site to ensure the safety of the pickers,” Stanton noted.

“Because most of them have come over here from the Mandela dumpsite, they would’ve already been aware of the risks and hazards of getting too close to the machinery. So you will find they of themselves don’t get too close, and we encourage them not to get too close,” he explained.

Stanton did indicate that accidents do occur. Therefore, in an effort to limit disastrous outcomes, medical facilities available to the workers include trained first aid practitioners present on site. He even pointed out that monthly health evaluations were conducted for everyone engaged at the landfill.

However, even with the provisions in place to prevent accidents at the landfill, two deaths have been recorded at the Haags Bosch dumpsite. It is with that in mind that administration of the Eccles facility continues to embark on efforts to limit, if not prevent, accidents at the disposal site. These include collaboration with medical institutions for the provision of health care, as well as workers’ education, which is set to continue in October.

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