Women construction workers bear ailments as occupational hazards

Delhi: 8 Nov, 2021 (Times of India)


New Delhi: From breathing difficulty to skin diseases — most women construction workers put up with these ailments as “occupational hazards” with no access to regular health checkups on work sites.

In a study that profiles 390 women construction workers in Delhi, to understand their perceptions about pollution, 87% indicated they could suffer from lung disease and coughs due to their occupation. Apart from this, the respondents were of the view that air pollution at construction sites could cause redness in the eyes (52%), breathing issues (49%), skin problems (45%) and heart problems (4%). Nearly 75% respondents reported feeling sick or uncomfortable when the air quality is bad.

Several women participants during the ‘focus group discussions’ stated that they suffered from skin diseases and had to consult doctors. Some of them also complained about breathing issues and body aches due to carrying heavy loads at construction sites.

In construction, most women are involved in unskilled manual jobs like carrying cement, sand and bricks, helping in preparing cement mortar and carrying it, digging, breaking stones etc. A few women do brick laying (17%) and plastering of walls (8%).

These findings are part of a first of its kind study that highlights the sheer lack of focus on the impact of environmental pollution on women construction workers. It brings out the gender perspective from three resettlement colonies — Sawda Ghevra, Bakkarwala and Gokulpuri — in Delhi. The study makes a case for more studies and awareness building on the subject.

Serious environmental problems flagged by the women included the problem of open drainage in the colonies where they lived (60%), supply of contaminated water and irregular water supply (55%), open defecation (40%), unsanitary conditions (38%) and air pollution from various sources (37%). People are generally unaware of PM2.5, PM10 particles and Air Quality Index.

Majority of the respondents (83%) were aware about the importance of sprinkling water to control construction dust. Slightly less than 50% reported such measures being practiced at the place of their work.

Nearly 68% women felt that focusing on air pollution on work sites may negatively influence growth and employment. Around 40% of the respondents reported that there is fear among women construction workers to talk about the issue of air pollution at the sites. Amongst them around, 80% of the women feared losing their jobs if they voiced concerns. This fear was evident in focused group discussions too.

“This study was aimed at understanding ground realities to develop a strategic plan to build, increase and strengthen construction workers’ voices on the issue of air pollution in Delhi,” explained Roshini Suparna Diwakar from civil society organisation Mahila Housing Trust that conducted the study with Purpose and CMSR Consultants. MHT has now started a campaign to create a group of AQI ambassadors within the community in these resettlements to build awareness on pollution.

Majority of the women workers surveyed for the study were poor — nearly 30% had annual income less than Rs 25,000 and slightly less than 50% had an annual income in the range of Rs 25,000-50,000.

“As part of the awareness building exercise, women construction workers and community leaders have been trained in how to use portable AQI monitors and collect data on air quality,” Diwakar said. “With real-time, site-specific air quality data, women construction workers can take precautions to protect themselves and their families,” she added.

The air quality data collected will be assessed by MHT to identify patterns and solution for them contextually.