FFW-slideshow

Those who care for the dead need safety and health
By Philip C. Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
4:00 am | Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011
Posted by ffw.org.ph

While everybody is remembering their dead, hardly anyone cares about what happens to those who take care of our dead.

Families of the dead usually wouldn’t even remember, much less, know the embalmers, gravediggers, cremators and cemetery workers, who give utmost personal and professional care for their departed loved ones. Not too many realize that memorial park workers need to practice occupational safety and health, or else they might follow the path of their clients too soon.

“Our clients are in so much grief, the last thing they would want to find out is how well we are doing,” said Christian Mojica, a veteran cremator at the Davao Memorial Park.

Mojica has spent more than a decade manning the chamber, the place where the corpse are cremated and burned until they return to ashes so to speak.

Basics of occupational safety and health

“People do not realize the extent of the safety and health issues in our workplace,” said Christian Mojica, who is also the vice president of the union at Davao Memorial. They are affiliated with the Federation of Free Workers (FFW).

To address the safety and health issues in memorial parks and across industries, the FFW organized the national Basic Occupational Safety and Health (BOSH) Training last week.

“I am very thankful to the FFW for inviting me to the BOSH Training,” said Mojica. “People will be trooping to cemeteries. It is an opportune time to highlight the plight of the workers who care for the dead.”

The FFW, the oldest labor federation in the Philippines has partnered with the International Labour Organization, the Occupational Safety and Health Center and OSH Network to train some 50 unionists from different industries and different ideological persuasions to the five-day BOSH training at the OSH Center in Quezon City, right before the long All Saint’s Day weekend.

“Safety and health are supposed to be politically neutral issues, which explains the relatively high turnout of union leaders for the training,” said Julius Cainglet, assistant vice president of the FFW and BOSH training coordinator.

Cainglet said that they invited FFW member unions as well as unions from the construction, manufacturing and service industries—both in the private and public sector, and safety and health practitioners.

“The idea is to foster a safety and health culture in the workplace and what better way to start and spread it with the help of trade unions,” Cainglet said. “If trade unions can integrate OSH concerns in their collective bargaining agreements we envision much healthier and safer workplaces.”

Promoting OSH forms part of the advocacy of the FFW to campaign for decent work in the workplace enshrined in its 23rd National Convention adopted by the Federation in June this year.

Safety for cremators

Mojica explained that cremators like him get exposed to more potential hazards when the family of their clients decide to have their dead cremated with their coffins.

“Metallic coffins pose the greatest hazards since they emit chrome and lead once burned,” said Mojica. Chrome and lead pose serious health risks once inhaled or get exposed to the skin.

The emissions from burning both the coffin and the corpse are confined to the chamber, but the cremator eventually has to open the chamber to take the ashes out.

“I learned from the BOSH Training that we need to wear personal protective equipment (PPEs) like protective suits, sealed head gear and face masks and gloves which are heat resistant all of the time when handling the corpse during cremation,” Mojica added.

He also realized that they have to put in place additional seals to the chamber’s hoses to prevent gas leaks.

He also noticed that a lot of the embalmers he has met are dry skinned and appear to have tuberculosis. He plans to address these concerns when he gets back to work.

Training participants were asked to prepare their respective re-entry plans outlining how they will introduce OSH programs in the workplace.

The Philippines has yet to ratify ILO Convention 187 on the OSH Promotional Framework. The international treaty directs ILO member-governments like the Philippines to establish national systems, enact national policies and craft national programs for OSH.

A total of 44,800 occupational accidents occurred in 4,600 non-agricultural establishments employing 20 or more workers in 2007. 

Occupational injuries that resulted from workplace accidents reached 46,570 in 2007. Manufacturing accounted for around two-thirds of the  total cases of occupational injuries in 2007 (30,790 out of 46,570).

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