Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Basic occupational health and safety procedures ignored by state government

worker-pranginThe Consumer’s Association of Penang (CAP) lauds the Penang state government for its ‘Cleaner, Greener Penang' initiative. The initiative although long overdue in view of Penang’s deteriorating environment, is a positive step forward to restore Penang’s lost charm.

However, as depicted in The Star (24 May), the state government seems to have sacrificed its basic human values in its endeavour to create a better environment for its citizens.
The picture accompanying the article, 'Get Involved in cleanliness campaign, urges CM', depicted two men in chest deep, thick black effluent surrounded by all manner of floating and decomposing rubbish in their bid to clean up Prangin Canal.

We question how these two workers were allowed to perform this abominable task by State Local Government and Traffic Management Committee Chairman, YB Chow Kon Yeow, who heads the initiative. We are appalled at this total disregard for worker safety or health. Instead of using appropriate machinery to clear the waste from the canal, the two workers performed this atrocious work manually in conditions of utter filth and stench while being immersed in the foul effluent up to their chests. There was obviously no care or concern for their safety, health or lives. They were not even provided with any form of personal protective equipment to keep them safe from potential infection from the legion of harmful micro-organisms normally found in such filth. The effluent would also be host to a variety of non-organic pollutants like heavy metals and chemicals which can cause long term health problems, against which they were also not protected against.

Conditions like these are also ideal for the emanation of toxic and flammable gases such as methane and carbon dioxide by the micro-organisms by way of the anaerobic digestion process. The workers undoubtedly inhaled these gases in the course of their work since they were not protected by protective breathing equipment.

The most basic occupational safety and health procedures were not observed by the state government. How then will other employers treat their workers here in Penang where human capital is our lifeblood?

It is the duty and responsibility of the state government to show its manufacturing sector and other employers how workers should be treated with respect and dignity and to practice and uphold occupational health and safety practices for them. CAP calls upon the state government to adopt the most basic human values in its attitude towards its employees and contract workers and do their part in promoting worker health and safety.

Penangites want a ‘cleaner, greener Penang’ but not at the expense of the health and safety of our workers.

Letter to Editor - 25th May 2010