Video and information by Miriam Wanyama, KUSPAW
After hearing some workers’ complains, I visited the boilers and power house sections of the sugar estate in Kenya where I work. This video is of one boiler attendant.
The boilers, where heat is generated to produce steam, are old fashioned, and workers have to manually turn the bagasse (the fibrous residue after crushing the cane) which is used as a fuel, once every two and a half hours or about three times in an 8-hours shift. Sometimes, when someone does not show up for work, the worker has to remain at his post up to sixteen hours.
Some workers have worked in the same place for more than 15 years. One worker, I found, suffered a serious intestinal problem, which is usually associated with chain smoking but, in his case, it can be linked to the inhalation of bagacillo (tiny particles of bagasse, which ought to be removed from the environment). The worker has had two operations to correct the problem. A common complaint from all male workers, however, was experiencing low libido and suffering penile erectile dysfunction.
In an informal conversation with the company’s Safety officer, it was said that these workers should be equipment and dressed more like fire-fighters, instead of using the ordinary personal protecting equipment (PPE) or, sometimes, no wearing any protection at all.
In the powerhouse, a control room cane be set up, where workers can rest at accepted temperatures.
There is a safety and health protocol when workers are exposed to high temperatures, which, depending on temperature and humidity, recommends a period of work followed by a rest period. The higher the temperature, the shorter the work period – or shorter exposure times to high temperatures.
I left the boilers and powerhouse sections with the impression that these workers are slowly dying for a long time; only waiting for a doctor to tell them so.