SRINAGAR From January 2014 to October 2018, as many as 63 Power Development Department (PDD) workers, which include linemen, helpers, casual laborers and need-based workers, have died and 23 have suffered disability while fixing lines in different parts of Kashmir. Negligence on the part of workers and PDD officials is said to be the major cause of these avoidable accidents.
Picture of a PDD worker fixing electric wires atop an electric pole in north Kashmir, while it was snowing last week, was shared by hundreds of people on social media. In the picture the worker, Mr. Abdullah Khan, can be seen fixing the wires atop the electric pole without wearing safety gloves while it was snowing heavily. Obscured by heavy snowing, his face and body is hardly visible in the picture.
Many people appreciated the bravery and dedication of the linemen for serving people by risking his life while many others expressed their anguish over negligence of PDD for not providing safety gears, such as hand gloves, helmets, belts and shoes to their workers and making them climb up electric poles amid harsh weather conditions.
Taking to microblogging site, Twitter, Irfan Rasool, a Forest Conservator, appreciated Khan for his bravado and determination in one of his tweets: J&K Power Development Dept employee Mr. Abdullah Khan performing his duty fixing electric supplies in highly inclement weather. Not all heroes wear caps.
In response to his tweet, a twitter-user, Zahid Bhat wrote: Sending a casual labourer up an electric pole without any safety gear is criminal, why not send one of the guys drawing a fat paycheque?. This man deserves better. Regularization of such a professional would be worth it.
Another twitter-user, Zoya, wrote that a lineman in her area died one winter while doing the same and no one knows his name. She further wrote: Stop glorifying this and ask for better working conditions for people like him. If you ask him he will tell you how he fears for his life while on duty. Hero cap etc. sounds and looks good in films.
There were hundreds of such reactions from people on social media. But what this photo highlighted is the fact that many workers of PDD repair transmission lines by risking their lives as they work without using safety tools.
On March 5, 2017, hundreds of people watched the body of a casual worker slouched on electric wires after he got electrocuted while repairing a transmission line near Budshah Bridge in Srinagar. His co-worker suffered severe injuries and is now completely disabled. Both were from Rainawari area of Srinagar and were hired by a contractor on casual basis.
Recalling that incident, an official of the PDD department, while talking to Kashmir Observer on the condition of anonymity, said that that tragic incident was a result of total negligence on the part of the officials who were supposed to take enough precautions for the safety of the workers. There were two transmission lines going through the area and the workers had touched the live transmission line instead of the one which was supposed to be repaired. Such was the level of communication among the employees, he said.
There is supposed to be a paper permission which we call permit to work system. This should have helped avoiding the accident as power supply has to be restored only when the officials are satisfied about the safety of workers. But, as we see, accidents still happen. In majority of the accidents, it has been found out that accidents have occurred because power supply was restored while men were still working. This is criminal, the official said.
If the accidents are to be avoided, the department, he said, has to be overcautious by taking all the necessary measures such as making paper permissions more stringent, making the use of tools and plants mandatory, employing safety quality inspectors in all the divisions and making provision for fining heavily those contractors who are seen violating the standard safety measures.
Sanjay Dhar, the president of Non-gazetted Electrical Employees Union (NGEEU) said that the linemen of PDD are paying with their lives because they are left to fend for themselves.
A lineman only knows how to arrange or fix the lines. They are supposed to be accompanied by junior engineers (JEs) while they repair the wires as he has to make sure that it is happening as per the prescribed norms. Apart from inspecting and ensuring that the job of fixing the wires has been properly done, the JEs are supposed to monitor whether linemen are following safety measures as well. It is mandatory. But we often see that linemen are sent on their own to fix the wires, Dhar told Kashmir Observer.
At the same, let me confess that the workers also take their safety lightly and do not insist on doing the job of repairing wires while using safety tools. They also need to be careful, he said.
Chief Engineer PDD, Hashmat Qazi, said that wherever he goes for the inspection, he stops the work until he ensures the workers use proper tools like helmet and hand gloves. Quoting an example, he said: Very recently, I went for the inspection to a site in Buchwara-Srinagar. When I asked the workers where they had their helmets and hand gloves, some of them rushed towards their motor-bikes and got their safety tools. How can one respond to such attitude?
So, it is not fair to blame us for not providing safety tools to the workers or not urging them to use the safety tools. We do care about their safety, he said and added that most of the times workers are overconfident about themselves and ignore safety standards which, unfortunately, sometimes causes tragic accidents.
A senior electric engineer, who is also a top official of PDD, said that people in Kashmir are traditionally very non-serious about their safety which is also attributable to PDD workers. For example, do we wear seat-belts when we drive our cars? We will, probably, only do that if we fear fining, he said and added that such attitude needs to be changed.
According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of USA, personal protective equipment for the electric power industry generally includes safety glasses, face shields, hard hats, safety shoes, insulating (rubber) gloves with leather protectors, insulating sleeves, and flame-resistant (FR) clothing.
Can the authorities in our region make it mandatory that linemen of PDD at least have some basic gears such as helmets and gloves to protect them from on-the-job hazards. Lineman also need to take their safety seriously!
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