The Alliance of Progressive Labor and the EcoWaste Coalition, in a joint statement, sought for a just and thorough probe of the chemical tragedy as they urged the various government agencies, particularly the Environment, Labor and Health, to strengthen existing policies and programs on occupational safety and health to prevent exposure, injury and death from toxic and hazardous substances.
Last Tuesday, February 16, workers Junnel Almohera, Charmeil Allego and a certain “Waray” died after being exposed to toxic fumes from a barge undergoing repairs in Barangay Santa Maria, Bauan. Three other workers, namely Roger de la Peña, Guilberto Liverca, and Jayson Rodolfo, also got poisoned, but luckily survived.
Engineer Melvin Arevalo, Municipal Planning Development Coordinator of Bauan, confirmed with the EcoWaste Coalition that the workers suffered from excessive carbon monoxide poisoning as per report by the Philippine Coast Guard.
The toxic fumes forced the Bauan local government to declare a state of emergency in the municipality that saw more than 2,000 residents of Barangays Santa Maria and San Pedro moving out to safety.
“Many of our workers are not aware of the risks and dangers of toxic and hazardous chemicals in their work environment. Thus the need for expanded programs that will promote chemical safety education among workers, provide adequate compensation and rehabilitation in case of work-related exposure to chemicals, and encourage industry shift to clean production,” said Josua Mata of the Alliance of Progressive Labor, adding that the parties behind the Bauan toxic incident should be investigated and held accountable.
“To safeguard labor and community health, we urge industries and businesses using chemicals that are capable of causing harm to people and the environment to duly notify their workers and adjoining communities and to implement a chemical accident prevention program, including toxics use reduction and substitution, and an emergency response plan in case anything goes wrong,” said Manny Calonzo of the EcoWaste Coalition.
The switch to clean production and the implementation of various measures to minimize, if not eliminate, the use of highly hazardous substances to prevent chemical accidents and exposures is in line with the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), the APL and the EcoWaste Coalition stated.
SAICM, which the Philippines and over a 100 countries adopted in 2006, provides an overall strategy and plan of action to strengthen chemicals policies and prevent harm to public health and the environment due to exposure to chemicals and other toxic substances.
The groups also observed that the Bauan toxic incident should prompt a review of the government’s “Medium-Term National Occupational Safety and Health Plan 2005-2010” and lead to proactive interventions targeting local government units, vulnerable workers and communities, including those employed in the informal economy who have the least access to safety information.
The groups further noted the need to strengthen the Zero Accident Program of the Occupational Safety and Health Center under the Department of Labor and Employment and expand its implementation to all geographical regions and economic sectors, but with particular emphasis on workers that are most vulnerable to chemical exposure and harm such as the agricultural, industrial, mining, construction and waste workers.
For more information, please contact:
1. Engineer Melvin Arevalo, Bauan Municipal Planning Development