The country’s lack of implementation of workplace and workers safety laws is apparent from labourers’ lax attitude towards the hazardous fireworks —sparks that fly during a weld. Sometimes working below minimum wage and mostly without any safety precautions, welders in Rawalpindi like those in other parts of the country, expose themselves to toxic rays and risk getting burns and permanent eye injuries.
As per a spokesman of the labour department of the city, the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for welding includes a 12 by 12 inches glass shield, full sleeve shirt, half-sleeved leather gloves, a helmet, and sturdy shoes. Since the department does not do much in enforcing these SOPs, welders go about their business working barehand and often barefoot in scorched clothes and without any eyewear. Salman Sabzwari, who owns a welding shop in Rawalpindi, said that he was not even aware if SOPs existed. “I have been in this business for the last 20 years and rarely have I used spectacles or shields of any kind,” said Sabzwari.
Others in the same line of work concurred with Sabzwari’s views that protection was not necessary as it was just a hindrance in their work. Sharjeel Khan, another long-time welder, while talking to The Express Tribune, said: “We go home and wash our eyes thoroughly at night and it has not affected us in any way.” Khan, indicating an utter disregard for safety measures, inquired that if precautions were so important then why had no one fined him for non-compliance? The problem is exacerbated when children are employed to work and such harsh working conditions are forced upon them.
Gulzar Hameed, who assists at a welding shop and makes a daily wage of Rs 200 to 250, is a minor. “I am learning to weld so sometimes the owner gives me sunglasses to shield my eyes but mostly I work without them,” Hameed informed.
There are other children like Hameed who choose to risk their wellbeing to earn money to support their families and common between them apart from their financial constraints is the alien concept of safety measures. Asghar Mehmood, who employs such children, rebuking the precautions, said, “eyes might get affected but this is hard work so we just clean our eyes with rosewater and get back to making a living.”
However, medical professionals do not subscribe to such life-endangering views. Dr Rafiq Ahmed, former Director of Health Services and Medical Superintendent, while talking to The Express Tribune, said, “what these people do not understand is that they can burn their face or suffer a high voltage electric shock.”
Narrating the stories of two of his patients who lost their eyesight due to exposure to welding sparks, Ahmed informed that welding for 4 hours straight impairs the hearing as well as eyesight. It should be noted that most welders in the city reported working long hours.
Laying the blame of welding-related injuries on the labour department’s indifferent attitude, Ahmed said, “doing this job without any safety measures should be made a crime and it’s high time the department enforces SOPs