Health & Fitness

Key players should join hands to keep artisans safe at work through awareness campaign

A juakali artisan
A juakali artisan. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The evolution of the modern-day Jua Kali industry is seeing increasing adoption of automated tools among the fundis. With it, precision artisanry is taking root, creating a previously missing ingredient in their quest for mass production, standardisation and replicability.

In the past, if you ordered for 100 beds, the variation in the shapes and sizes ensured you had such a wide difference that uniformity was lost. For institutional establishment orders where aesthetics is important, artisans were locked out.

While associated with positives like speed, precision, accuracy and beauty, automation has a flip side in its high traumatic occupational injuries. Specifically, hand, eye, foot and invisible respiratory injuries have increased in both frequency and severity with its use.

Locally, carpentry and metal works are easily the top utilisers of automation, as evidenced by rising sales of motor-driven hand power tools in these crafts.

In carpentry, electric saws, drill bits, chisels, plaining and sandpapering tools are now common, replacing the traditional hand saw, drill and plane.


Metal fabricators have automated cutting, bending, polishing and painting works.

Spray painting, in particular, contrasted to the hand brush, means fine particulate paint is inhaled if a user is not wearing the right mask.

These two crafts rank among the top associated with traumatic occupational injuries. Other crafts include construction artisans presenting with crush injuries to hands, feet as well as the head from falling debris or falls from a height. Inhaled cement is also a concern in this group.

Mr David Kabiru, an Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) and workplace First Aid trainer, says mechanised tools ought to have training before use, regular inspection of their functioning and visible warning signage on their operation, including checklists before usage.

In his opinion, most fundis often dismiss grinding and sharpening in metal fabricators as well as fumes generated in metal workshops as not harmful, but have high risks. He suggests training in basic first aid at the workshops in addition to OSHA and recommends personal protective equipment (PPE) be worn, with a strict policy on goggling, overalls, gloves as well as boots.

A survey of workshops reveals non-compliance is common. This may be partly due to a lack of awareness amongst fundis since many now learn on the job, as well as unaffordability of PPE. The latter may require staggered payments from vendors to boost purchase.

With most of the fundis not on health insurance or work injury benefits schemes, whenever injuries occur, a loss of income to the happens. For those with medical insurance, the cost incurred may be high, and the National Hospital Insurance Fund foots most of such medical bills.

Collaboration between vendors of such tools, PPE, the OSHA departments and other stakeholders need to ensure the messaging reaches the fundis.