Waste reclaimers contribute to higher levels of recycling and help divert waste from landfill sites (Carras, 2012). It is estimated that they divert 16-24 tonnes of recyclable waste per reclaimer per year. In 2014 the value of landfill space they saved South Africa was R310-750 million.The South African Waste Pickers Association has 99 waste picker organisations listed on their database and of those only three are South African.
There are 38 waste streams that are picked excluding hazardous and industrial waste (e.g. plastics, glass, metals, electronic). The street is the most common workplace (76%) of members listed in the database, followed by door-to-door (21%), dumpsites (16%) and landfills (13%). However, picking from waste bins is an extremely hazardous activity (e.g. biological agents, chemical hazards, physical hazards, mechanical hazards, ergonomic strain, psychosocial stress) as well as transporting the collected recyclables on trolleys on urban roads with high traffics volumes. Therefore it is important that this group of workers are empowered to prevent exposures/hazards while working. The occupational burden of ill-health among this group is unmeasured in South Africa due to the fluidity of the industry.
In celebration of World Day of Health and Safety at Work (28 April) and as a follow-up to the training conducted in 2016 the NIOH hosted the “Health, Safety & Wellness Workshop” for street waste pickers. The purpose of the workshop was to identify concerns of street waste reclaimers; and to raise greater awareness of hazards that they may be exposed to, while at work; to promote worker rights and decent work for all. From these sessions the NIOH aims to engage with health departments for easier access to health services for waste pickers; partner with stakeholders to implement appropriate interventions to reduce exposures and to collaborate with institutions with similar interest to adopt/adapt global best practice in occupational health and safety among waste pickers.
The workshop comprised an overview of occupational health and safety and specific hazards relevant to the industry, a video showing the plight of waste pickers in the city of Johannesburg, testimony of the lives of two pickers and one described the disparity of females in the sector and the risk they face daily of being raped, a quiz was also conducted during this session which was well received by the attendees. There was a parallel session where females joined the MINA presentation regarding female hygiene. Each female trainee received a free MINA cup. The other session attended by males was presented by the Wits Health Research Institute and covered male reproductive issues. The group visited the Mobile clinic during the course of the event. The presentation on social determinants among waste pickers was given by the Social Health and Displaced Persons Unit.