Sweeping the roads and highways of Lagos is inarguably a risky task, given the level of exposure to the unending flow of cars, motorbikes, trucks. As a daily job, the risks are increased, often leaving the person performing the task in a perpetual state of fear for his/her life and safety.
In order to keep the roads and highways clean in Lagos state, over 10,000 street sweepers are employed to sweep the roads daily. The job has no age or class discrimination. The job attracts both the old and young, the educated and illiterate, the able and disabled. Physically challenged persons who sweep pedestrian bridges in Lagos have been recognised by Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) for their work and are given a N10,000 monthly allowance.
Last month, the state Ministry of Environment, in conjunction with LAWMA, organised a two-day sensitisation and awareness workshop to ensure that the service providers are not exposed to any form of danger while discharging their duties and to ensure that all road users are aware of safety rules and regulations. The workshop drew thousands of street sweepers from across the state. Governor Babatunde Fashola promised the workers that his administration would remain committed to ensuring the safety of the sweepers.
Their fears on the job
Despite the governor’s assurances, some of the sweepers have developed a fatalistic mind set about the perils of the job, and have opted to put their faith in God. Gbemisola Sosanya is one of such. “No matter how much they preach, it’s only God that can save us from the hands of these drivers,” she said. “Especially these Okadas (commercial motorcyclists), they ride anyhow. I pray before I go to work every day that no car or okada should knock me down. If I had a better job, I won’t be risking my life like this.”
Bimbo Gbamila, a 47-year-old mother of three, is another street sweeper who attributes her safety on the job to divine protection. “I don’t like this work, but I cannot go and steal,” she spoke in Yoruba. “I was a trader before but I spent all the money I had in the hospital when my son was sick and I don’t have money to continue the business. It is only God that has been protecting us from these reckless drivers because they drive so roughly. Every time I am working, I am always scared that they will not knock me down.”
A perilous trade
Ola Oresanya, the Managing Director of LAWMA, disclosed during the workshop that at least 57 street sweepers have been crushed to death by vehicles at various places in the metropolis while on duty between 2007 and now. Some have also been maimed and involved in minor accidents. He also stated that at the last count, there were about 10,450 street sweepers in the state.
Micheal Arigbabu is a motorist who thinks people should not be placed on the highway to do the job that vehicles can do. “I wonder why we are still using human beings to sweep our highways,” he said. “It is too dangerous. In developed countries, they use street sweeping vehicles. We have to move on and stop risking people’s lives. You have to understand that it is not only reckless drivers that could hit a highway sweeper. What if the car is malfunctioning or the driver just didn’t see the sweeper?”
In response to the issue of the safety of the street sweepers at work, Mr Oresanya, says that risks are found in every job. “In every work that you do, you have occupational hazards,” he said. “Even you as a journalist, you can be on a trip as a journalist and anything can happen. You have journalists covering war zones and things do happen. We all have a risk attached to our profession. We have soldiers that can get killed during the war time, we have doctors that can get infected during the period of treatment. So, every business that you do has its own risk attached to it.”
Calming frayed nerves
The LAWMA boss also stated that the street sweepers were covered by insurance, and reiterated his agency’s objectives to work towards enhancing the safety of its workers “It is a group insurance,” he said. “The individuals don’t have to sign for it. There is an insurance package for all the street sweepers and they are given their compensation whenever there is need for it. But we focus more on the prevention of such accidents. Our approach to the whole issue is to prevent the accidents. On our own street sweepers business, if peradventure anything happens, we have an insurance scheme. But what we do mainly, we prevent any accident and we’ve been doing that very well. You can see that they’ve been wearing highway reflective clothing. You can spot them almost 500metres away. And when they sweep, they face oncoming vehicles. We hardly get any accidents. It’s all about preventing these accidents rather than allowing them to occur. But when they do occur, we do what we are supposed to do as employees. Take care of these people and make sure we treat them. We give them the best care they can get and if we have a loss, they get due compensation.”
But another street sweeper, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that she is unaware of any insurance scheme attached to the job. “I didn’t sign any insurance form when I got this job, I know the work is risky but I have to do it because there is no job anywhere.”