The health, safety and dignity of sanitation workers

Image: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

A global analysis of sanitation work

Sanitation workers provide an invaluable public service, vital to our daily lives and the environment. Yet they often work in conditions that expose them to the worst consequences of poor sanitation – debilitating infections, injuries, social stigma and even death.

We have joined forces with the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization to shed light on this neglected issue. Our joint report is the most extensive global exploration of the topic to date. In it, we analyse the problems sanitation workers face – focusing on those emptying pits and tanks, and maintaining sewers – and explore good practices around the world.

We suggest areas of action to ensure sanitation workers have their rights recognised, are supported to organise as a labour force, and have their working conditions improved and progressively formalised. We challenge ourselves, countries and development partners to act and contribute to improving the health, safety and dignity of sanitation workers, recognising their crucial role in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6.

Meet the workers

Watch our interviews with sanitation workers and activists in Tanzania, Burkina Faso and India to hear about the challenges they face, the changes they want to see and what they want the water, sanitation and hygiene sector to do.

Julius, Juma and Milinga

Julius and Juma describe their jobs as private pit emptiers in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Milinga, who owns the business, describes how he began his sanitation business because there was no service in the area, and the challenges that still remain.


Bande Alidou empties pit latrines in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and has started an association of pit emptiers. In 2017, the Ministry of Water and Sanitation gave him with an award for advocating for better health and safety protection for other sanitation workers.


Bezwada Wilson is the national convener for Delhi-based Safai Karmachari Andolan (Sanitation Workers Movement) in India. He is an activist who speaks up around the world for the rights of sanitation workers in his home country and beyond.