HomeNewsBackyard garages: A health time bomb

Backyard garages: A health time bomb


With many companies in Zimbabwe closing down due to a biting liquidity crunch, some people have converted part of their residential homes into workshops where money-spinning projects are carried out.

Norman Muvavarirwa

One such house is located in Harare’s Warren Park D suburb where Collin Musekiwa, 32, is using it as a garage. The house is owned by Musekiwa’s grandmother and the family is surviving on returns from the panel-beating business.

“After completing school in 1997 I enrolled for panel beating and spray painting short courses at a local private college then I worked at for a local firm in Eastlea for nearly three years. The business started to deteriorate due to economic difficulties that we came across that time,” Musekiwa said.

He started operating from home in 2007 and specialises in panel beating, spray painting, motor vehicle mechanics and auto-electronics.

His concern boasts a small generator, a small compressor, two gas bottles, metalworking equipment as well as unqualified auto body mechanics to repair vehicle bodies back to their factory state after having been damaged.

“I strive at all costs to meet manufacturers’ specifications. I work with my untrained brother and other three other youths who assist in operating this equipment. We also do collision repairs for all types of vehicles up to the size of 3,5-tonne trucks,” Musekiwa said.

“We do not have diagnostic equipment to undertake in depth mechanical and auto-electrical work, but we can handle basic mechanics and basic auto-electronics.”

His workshop is one of the garages that are often referred to as to open-air garages that expose customers’ vehicles to direct heat from the sun. These businesses lack proper business planning, management and technical skills.

Such businesses evade lawful obligatory requirements like Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, National Social Security Authority (NSSA), National Employment Council, Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund, Industry and Commerce, Union and Pension Funds entities among others.

The Motor Industry Association of Zimbabwe (MIAZ) has, however, challenged players in the panel beating industry to formalise their operations.

MIAZ vice-president Luckson Gwara said there was need for home-grown motor industry players to enhance their visibility by registering with relevant associations and complying with policies that are required by the country’s regulatory bodies.

“These indigenous panel beaters should try to use reputable garages. The solvents that are used during spray painting are hazardous and they need to be used at a suitable place and following clearly their directions for use,” Gwara said.

It is estimated that the urban informal sector employs about 61% of the urban labour force in Africa.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), this sector employs between 30% and 80% of the urban workforce in Africa.

Zimbabwe has a fairly large informal sector with activity prevalent in hazardous sector such as small scale construction, mining and motoring industry.

Musekiwa, however, lamented the non- existence of home industries in the Warren Park D area.

“Some of the challenges that I am facing right is to secure a suitable area where I can carry out my job my I wish is to acquire a piece of land, a garage where I can conduct my operations,” he said.

Warren Park D residential area has no designated site for home industries.

Most of these small enterprises from the informal sector operate on open land or locations not legally recognised for the purpose and with no right of ownership. In this way municipal regulatory standards are not applicable to them.

Since they do not own the land they cannot have access to sanitary facilities, permanent and sustainable and suitable working environments access to potable water or electricity as these services are provided only to lawful owners of land.

The workers are not covered by occupational safety and health regulations.

The majority of urban informal sector workers live in poor areas, lack basic health and welfare services and social protection and work in an unhealthy and unsafe working environment.

For many informal sector operators their home and workplace are one and the same place.

The conditions under which most informal sector workers operate are risky and unsafe.

It is an offence according to NSSA regulations, to expose employees to direct sun while working exposing them to rain and extreme hot and cold temperatures.

In a study by the ILO on occupational and chemical safety and health in small and medium enterprises, it was found that workers in auto repair shops had the following complaints headache, skin problems and addiction to solvents.

Some body fillers generate toxic fumes and dust and are strong skin sensitises causing dermatitis. Many workplaces in the informal sector have no fire fighting equipment. As a result they are not prepared for fire outbreaks.

According to car manufacturers, exposure to hazardous substances used in spray painting can cause serious health effects such as occupational asthma, allergic contact dermatitis, lung cancer, painter’s syndrome.

Long term exposure to organic solvents can lead to brain, reproductive system kidney or liver damage.

Short term effects include irritant contact dermatitis; burns to the skin or eyes; vomiting and diarrhoea; irritation of the nose, throat and lungs; and headaches, nausea, fatigue and dizziness.

A survey of occupational risks and health impact carried out in the informal sector in Zimbabwe found that annual rates of injuries and illness exceed those from the formal sector.

As stated by NSSA in 2011 Zimbabwe recorded 4 158 occupational injuries as compared to 4 110 recorded in 2010. The first quarter of 2012, that is January to March, 1 266 injuries were recorded with 29 dying due to work accidents.

An increase compared to 2011 in the same period in which 1 159 injuries and 17 fatalities were recorded.

In first quarter of 2012 the Division of Occupational Health and Safety at NSSA diagnosed 13 cases of pneumoconiosis. By the end of April, the Division had diagnosed and recorded another 13 cases of the disease.

For the past two years the Ministry of Labour and Social Services indicated that the major causes of work-related accidents, included poor level recapitalisation of business, poor investment in occupational safety and health.

Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights states the right to a safe work environment. It links very well with numerous human rights including the right to physical and mental health and wellbeing and the right to life.

Thus employers have to respect the right to health of their employees by putting measures to prevent and control diseases and accidents and conditions to safety and health at work.

There is need of vigorous implementation of two legislative instruments the Factories and Works (revised) Act, (Cap 14:08) 1996 and its regulations and the Pneumoconiosis (revised) Act, (Cap 15:08) 1996 in tackling this issue.

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