Wits pool cleaners fear for their health due to the failure of management to provide them with safety working gear
Long-term pool cleaners at Wits University claim that their health is at risk due to the failure of Wits Sports management to provide them with pool cleaning masks.
The workers across campuses raised concerns about the increasing health risks caused by using dust masks as a substitute for pool cleaning masks. They say they fear for their lives, because they work with hazardous pool chemicals.
Requests for the protective gear seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Caswell Bjalane, a worker at education campus, said they are not provided with appropriate working gear for the job they do.
“I haven’t received any suitable mask in my seven years of working in this university.”
“We need proper working gear, we work with chemicals. The chemicals we use are dangerous, and we are placing our lives in danger” he said.
The chemicals used to clean the swimming pools are hydrocloric acid and granular chlorine which contains calcium hypochlorite. “Pool chemicals can be harmful especially when you are not wearing proper working gear,” says Johan Dempers, Occupational and Health and Safety practitioner at SWIFT OHS Consultants.
Dempers said a survey should be done to check the level of exposure and the substance in the air. He further added that the workers should undergo medical examination once a year to check whether the chemicals have detrimental effects on their health.
Bjalane told Wits Vuvuzela that he visits the doctor as he experiences severe headaches and nose blocks. “Whenever I apply the chemical in a wrong direction, where the wind blows, I experience a nose block, when I blow my nose blood clots come out,” he said.
The pool cleaner added that he has had several conversations with his supervisor at the education campus, Godfrey Shivhambu, and even sent emails to him about their request for proper working gear.
Bjalane said his supervisor once brought working gear including disposable nasal masks, and he told him that the masks don’t work. “I personally showed [him] which masks he should buy. But he continued to buy the same kind. He told me the ones we want are expensive. In actual fact they [management] just buy these masks as a formality,” he said.
Another worker who has been working at Wits for 11 years and requested to remain anonymous due to fear of victimisation, said that they have always been provided with anti-dust masks. “We don’t have to remind them of the risks of using these chemicals, they should know,” the worker said.
Shivhambu, however, told Wits Vuvuzela that he was not aware of any of these issues. “I don’t recall having conversations with any of the workers about the working gear, nor have I received any emails.”
In email correspondence seen by Wits Vuvuzela refutes Shivhambu’s claims that he is not aware of any of these issue. In February 2015, education campus supervisor received an emailed request for “safety respiratory masks for chemicals” and also “googles: the ones that protect the area surrounding the eyes in order to prevent chemical fumes from entering the eyes.”
Shivhambu said he is the one who makes the orders and that the budget is not an issue. “The university provides the workers with gloves, boots, masks and hats. For us, the safety of our workers is the most important, they should come to me,” he said.