Assessment of the health, safety and dignity of sanitation workers in Kano City, Nigeria

WaterAid/Nelson Owoicho

Sanitation workers provide an essential service: clearing and disposing of human waste. But they are often marginalised, undervalued and unsupported. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the awful working conditions many face – working longer hours without adequate personal protective equipment, suitable training, financial support or legal protection. WaterAid commissioned a rapid assessment of sanitation workers in Nigeria in order to understand the working conditions of sanitation workers and identify opportunities to support them.

This assessment focused on Kano City through a literature review, focus group discussions and interviews. The majority of the 45 participants were sanitation workers and officials from the Manual Pit Emptiers Association and the Vacuum Trucks Owners Association. Other participants included government officials, traditional and religious leaders, and academics.

The assessment identified two major types of sanitation workers in Kano City: manual emptiers (50 groups) and mechanical/gully emptiers (12 private companies). Some 94% of sanitation workers were forced into this profession due to economic hardship. They are aware of the risk attached to their profession, yet only 25% reported to have used personal protective equipment.

Sanitation workers in Kano City face various challenges including access to office and parking spaces, the use of old tools and vehicles, and occupational hazards that can lead to illnesses, injuries or even death. In addition, the current environment does not support sanitation workers, with a weak institutional arrangement and legal framework and access to only three designated disposal sites for human waste.

The assessment confirmed that waste in Kano City is extensively disposed of untreated into the environment. Disposal practices vary depending on the season but include dumping waste into drains on the city’s outskirts. As such, the assessment identified the following recommendations to support sanitation workers and strengthen their working environment:

  • Reform policies, regulations, guidelines and institutional arrangements
  • Construct, operate and maintain faecal sludge treatment plants
  • Provide support to sanitation workers, such as with financial tools, equipment
  • Improve health and safety for sanitation workers
  • Revisit the health and safety guidelines for sanitation workers
  • Register and license the sanitation workers’ organisations
  • Develop and implement a behaviour change campaign on the rights and dignity of sanitation workers
  • Establish partnerships with various stakeholders

Further reading

Top image: Chief excavator Iliyasu Abbas scoops human waste into a bucket to be transferred into another container. Kano state, Nigeria, September 2021.