Analysis: BONIFACE SUSA
WHEN Saviour Chishimba, a United Progressive Party UPP candidate, was given the chance to speak during a live television debate for Lusaka City mayoral elections at Mulungushi International Conference Centre, he coughed a bit and said there was too much dust in the country, spontaneously sending the audience into laughter.Whether the remarks by Mr Chishimba were just a joke or not, the opposition leader clearly highlighted the alarming levels of dust in our communities.
Not long ago, residents of Ndeke township in Ndola were up in arms against the local authorities when they barricaded the road to Dangote Cement Company because of dust raised by the trucks that passed through the residential area.
It took the intervention of the police to restrain the residents, who demanded that the road is tarred before it is unblocked. Many people complained that they were subjected to persistent coughing due to the dust.
We are actually exposed to dust during the dry season. It is the time health facilities record more people who suffer from lung diseases which sometimes may be associated with dust.
Dust is emitted into the air by either the wind or human activities such as mining, building, road construction and farming. We inhale a lot of dust because most of us live in barren surroundings. Women breathe in dust almost every day when they sweep house premises.
Some women are unaware that by constantly inhaling dust they might contract lung infections like tuberculosis.
There are few women who apply water to the ground before sweeping to avoid the dust. We can reduce dust if we put up gardens, grow flowers and maintain grass lawns on our dwelling places.
I believe the Keep Zambia Clean campaign is not only about garbage collection but also ensuring that we live in dust-free environments in order to enjoy good health.
It cannot be denied that most of the roads in the country are not tarred and produce a lot of dust that pollutes the air.
But Government deserves praise for upgrading township roads to bituminous standard in several districts. The initiative has greatly contributed to the reduction of dust in the residential areas.
This brings me to the issue of occupational safety and health which many people working in various industries do not seem to take seriously. I will focus on silicosis, which is a widespread incurable respiratory disease that affects miners, building and construction workers, quarries, roadside stone crushers and agricultural workers. Silicosis is caused after inhaling dust from the minerals or stones containing silica, which permanently damages the lung tissues.
This type of pneumoconiosis is more fatal than TB because it cannot be cured. Silicosis can degenerate into lung cancer if there are no measures to stop the spread of the disease.
The best way to prevent silicosis is through thorough and rigorous implementation of occupational safety and health standards, laws, regulations and practices in the industries emitting dust.
It is no exaggeration to state that some mining and construction companies do not safeguard their workers against silicosis.
Quite often employees complain of lack of protective equipment to shield themselves from the dust. Unfortunately, construction workers, particularly the bricklayers, do not seem to care about the danger that they face when they inhale dust from cement because most of them do not wear protective gear.
The same can be said about agricultural workers, especially tractor drivers who are exposed to dust during land cultivation.
Roadside stone breakers are exposed to health hazards as they breathe in the dust from crushing the stones without protective equipment.
There is need to scale up awareness campaigns by relevant authorities to curb transmission of occupational diseases among workers both in the formal and informal sectors.
According to statistics, silica-tuberculosis accounts for more deaths among miners than mine accidents.
It is sad that some ex-miners have continued to suffer from this deadly disease even after they have retired from employment.
Dust in mining can effectively be eliminated by hydraulic drilling with simultaneous water jetting as opposed to pneumatic drilling which produces more dust.
The Ministry of Mines should make it mandatory that all mining companies comply with such safety regulation to minimise the emission of silica dust.
Zambia is endowed with rich mineral deposits such as manganese that has triggered the mushrooming of small-scale mining firms across the country.
At one manganese mine in Mkushi, I was shocked to see workers using their bare hands to grade the black stones.
The dust from the open pit was equally harmful to the workers who were not given protective kit.
The Mines Safety Department should ensure mining companies adhere to safety standards by closely monitoring their operations.
Working with other partners, the department should undertake stringent medical surveillance of miners to certify their fitness to work in the mines.
It is regrettable to note that certain mining firms do not bother to examine their employees for silicosis periodically as required by the law. As a result, some miners die from this disease without receiving compensation from their employers.
We need healthy and well-motivated workers who can participate fully in socio-economic development of the country.
Local industries should invest in the health of their employees by creating safe working environments to combat silicosis and other occupational diseases.
The author is Mkushi station radio manager.
Analysis: BONIFACE SUSA