Severe back and neck aches in gas cylinder delivery workers forces them to quit jobs
Rashiq Divakar, 38, went to a general physician two years ago when he noticed pain in his lower back. He first did not pay attention to it, but when the pain started shooting up, he felt the need to tell his wife. “My work involves picking up heavy cylinders and carrying them into buildings, people’s homes,” he said.
He thought about how he cannot afford taking leave from work even for a day. He asked his wife to fetch him a painkiller and a glass of water. He gulped the tablet and went to work the next day.
“The pain went away and I got back to delivering those heavy cylinders,” he said. But, within a week the pain came back. He couldn’t ignore it this time and went to a general physician.
Gas cylinder delivery workers in Bengaluru have several chronic back and neck issues. They pick up huge cylinders weighing approximately 15kgs everyday to buildings and offices. This results in back aches and hence hinders their work.
Divakar lives in a slum in Chickpete. He has a wife, 2 kids and ailing parents. To go to his room, he has to climb a staircase. Merely climbing ten stairs was a task for him, because of his severe back pain.
Divakar’s doctor told him to rest and not lift anything heavy for the next two days. He also gave him some painkillers. After a lot of requesting from his wife, Divakar finally took complete rest and did not go to work for two days. He resumed work on the third day and was feeling much better.
Although, two months later, he again had the same shooting pain on his back. This time, his friends advised him to go to a orthopedic. He did not understand who an orthopedic was. He said: “I am not that educated. My friend told me an orthopedic is someone who treats bones. I read their fees online and was shocked. I couldn’t afford the cost. I’d rather go to my ‘normal’ doctor again and take those medicines or even better- take a pain killer.”
Continuous lifting of the gas cylinders that weigh 15kg each brings a lot of strain to lower back and also heart. This leads to several other health conditions. Sometimes they have to take leave because of the unbearable pain and hence have to cut their daily salaries/wages.
Some people do not trust doctors at government hospitals. They just don’t. And so, they don’t get proper medication or facilities. Like in this case.
Ideally Divakar should have gone to a physiotherapist or an orthopedic for his pain in the back. But, he first took painkillers (on his own) and then when the pain didn’t stop he went to a GP. When the pain resurfaced again he was reluctant to go to a specialist.
That is what happened with him too. It has been two years and the pain in his lower back comes and goes and he now just takes a pain killer every time it pains. He has not visited a physiotherapist or an orthopedic and he doesn’t plan on doing that too.
Gas cylinder delivery workers come under unskilled workers category. As per minimum wages in Karnataka, average salary of an unskilled labourer in Petrol, Liquefied Petroleum Gas(LPG) industry is Rs. 10,000/per month.
The weight of a domestic LPG cylinder is 14.2 kgs according to the Legal Metrology Department
On an average, salary per month for a gas cylinder delivery worker is Rs. 10,000-12,000/per month.
The HPCL and Indian oil Corp. said to not tip the delivery workers irrespective of which floor they have to deliver the cylinder. This plus no proper health insurance from companies result in poor working condition for the workers.
A young individual who works as a cylinder delivery worker, developing severe back and heart ailments leads to many things. He could retire very early if his health deteriorates.
Minimum health insurance sometimes does not cover the whole cost. This means workers have to burn a whole in their pocket just to pay the hospital expense.
They don’t have a separate labour union as such.
“Safety training programs are very necessary especially in work environment that are prone to musculoskeletal hazards,” says Dr. Ramamurthy B, cardiologist from Bangalore.
He said: “In professions like lifting heavy objects (cylinders) everyday and then carrying it and climbing stairs, gives risk of musculoskeletal ailments. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are injuries of the nerves, joints, muscles, etc.”
The occupational health and safety law aims to provide safety of persons at work and also protection of people other than people at work from hazards arising out of or in connection with the activities from people at work.
As per Center for Disease Control and Prevention, musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) are conditions in which: The work environment and performance of work contribute significantly to the condition; and/or the condition is made worse or persists longer due to work conditions.
According to a report by The Hindu, the latest data shows that industrial accidents claimed 6,300 lives from 2014-2017.
Safety training programs in industry where musculoskeletal work is involved should be provided to the workers. The correct technique to hold the cylinders, some muscle exercises to rest your back and waist, etc should be included in the program.
Talking about such safety training programs, Vasant Shelgar, manager at the Bangalore Gas Agency, said they have never heard of any such program.
Shekharappa G, a cylinder delivery worker working for Bangalore Gas Agency said: “There was a man in his late 50s who suffered from a heart condition. Over a period of time, his heart condition worsened and he had to leave his job.”
Dr. Ramamurthy explained: “Lifting heavy objects like gas cylinders every day, definitely leads to musculoskeletal pain but also puts pressure on your heart. When you lift heavy weights, your heart pumps more blood and hence there is a lot of pressure. Therefore, it is advised that people with conditions should not lift heavy objects and it is very dangerous for them.”
While talking about this, Shekharappa was constantly touching his neck in agony. “It has been months since my neck is hurting a lot. This is because of lifting of cylinders,” he said.
Shekharappa then explained: “We put one hand on the top of the cylinder and the second at the bottom. We lift it and place it behind our neck. Because of this, me and my lot of colleagues are facing neck issues.”
“I just apply some cream or on some days wear bandage around it. If pain worsens, I eat a painkiller, but never go to the doctor. They are just there to get money out of us. I don’t have a lot of salary, and if I decide to spend some of it on doctors, what will remain for my family?
So, I don’t go to doctors unless absolutely necessary or it is a grave emergency situation,” he further added.
There are many like Rashiq and Shekharappa who neglect their pain. There could be several reasons for it. Affordable healthcare, sheer mistrust on government hospitals, minimum wages. poverty are some reasons highlighted here.
Piped gas was made available in Bengaluru in the year 2013. The Dabhol-Bangalore Natural Piped gas line made it happen. The project was commissioned on December 3, 2013 during the 8th Asia Gas partnership summit.
People made the shift to piped gas from LPG cylinder for various reasons. The piped gas is cheaper and also there isn’t any hassle of booking cylinders every time you run out of gas. Once you get the connection, you have to pay the bill every month.
When it comes to solutions for the problems faced by gas cylinder delivery workers, piped gas comes disguised as both- part of the solution and part of the problem.
Solution is quite simple. More piped gas connections in the city will lead to less LPG connections. Hence, not many workers will have to have severe back and neck problems.
On the other hand, it will keep them out of jobs. Installation of the piped gas line is a onetime thing. Then the question that comes before them is work with back problems or not work at all.
According to an article by Citizen Matters, piped gas has not reached in every house of Bengaluru. Therefore, even if the project was commissioned eight years ago, implementation of it is not up to the mark.
According to The journal of Indian Association of Physiotherapists, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the major causes of morbidity and the second most common cause of disability worldwide, measured by years lived with disability (YLDs), with low back pain being the most frequent condition. MSDs represent a burden on society in both direct costs to the healthcare system and indirect costs through loss of work and productivity.
The global prevalence of MSDs ranges from 14% to as high as 42%; on the other hand in India, epidemiological studies indicate the community-based prevalence of about 20% and occupation-specific prevalence found to be as high as 90% in various studies. In addition to this, the World Health Organization (WHO) also estimates that 40% of people over the age of 60 years suffer from MSD and about 80% of the people have had low back pain at some point in their life.
A substantial public health burden is associated with musculoskeletal diseases, which, in many cases, can be prevented or treated through distinct national health programs “National Program for prevention and control of MSDs” as like other NCDs. Incorporating musculoskeletal disorders under the umbrella of NCDs may be initiated as earliest as possible to reduce the future burden. There is still a need for epidemiological studies and public health actions for promoting a healthier lifestyle.
According to the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, in India, 17 million occupational non-fatal injuries and 45,000 fatalities occur every year.
The study in the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine talks about the postures of delivery workers that lead to musculoskeletal discomfort and injury to the lower back. This applies to unskilled labourers as well.
Dr. Tushar Joshi, physiotherapist at Wockhardt hospital, Mumbai said: “Physiotherapy really works wonders for musculoskeletal disorders. But, a patient has to complete the said sessions and take break and bed rest as advised by doctors. I can understand how taking long breaks for someone on a minimum wage pay scale is really tough, but there is no quick way to heal especially if it is muscular pain.”
Many gas cylinder delivery workers cannot take leave for days as they cannot afford and nor does their employer provide them with health insurance. In these scenarios, one cannot really blame the workers to only rely on painkillers.