For many Indian labourers there is no option but to work in often unclean, unsafe environments. They risk long-term health implications to stave off the potential for immediate health issues due to poverty and malnourishment. More and more case studies spotlight the dangerous work that is undertaken by many Indians simply in order to survive.
Recent reports have shown the high levels of conditions such as silicosis in India’s mining communities or asbestosis among ship breakers. These diseases are being found to be far more prevalent among the poor who work in these environments, a group that is far less likely to be able to afford proper healthcare to address these conditions.
In yet another example of the hazards plaguing so many occupations in India, a recent study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has found that labourers at construction sites who handle cement or are exposed to it are at high risk of contracting skin infections owing to the presence of harmful chemicals.
Several samples of cement taken as part of the study found that it contained potassium dichromate and hexavalent chromium, chemicals known to cause skin irritation. While this may seem a minor ailment when compared to the potential for lung disorders in those exposed to asbestos, the symptoms can become far more severe.
A long list of conditions such as cement burns, toxic paronychia, subungual necrosis, folliculitis and petechiae may occur. This is well as allergic reactions in those that possess allergies for any of the present chemicals.
Medical complications arise due to workers not acknowledging the initial symptoms, instead leaving the damage to accumulate before seeking medical help. “The initial symptoms emerge after working for several months. But the construction workers tend to ignore this as they are not aware of the health hazards. At AIIMS, many patients who have been working for more than two years have come with severely damaged skin,” said Dr Kaushal Verma, a key researcher on the study.
Treatment duration extends significantly if the symptoms of many of these conditions are not caught in their early phases. This increases the costs to the workers and often requires multiple trips to medical facilities, this may not be an option for those who cannot afford to take time away from work.
As in the case with silicosis, the only solution to the situation is an increase in safety protocol for workers. In this case, simple solutions such as the use of protective gear could go a long way in averting skin contact with the cement. Worker’s health must be prioritised, as many may be incurring medical bills exceeding their own wages.