A healthy workforce is an asset for a company
Unnao, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is known for its leather industry. One of the tanneries here is Kings International which processes raw hides into finished leather products which are then exported across the globe. “We pride ourselves for the finesse of our products and on-time delivery of every consignment,” the manager, Aamir Ausaf, said. No feat, however, is without its share of challenges. In this case, it was absenteeism among the tannery’s workers. Despite being aware of the time period when such cases spiked—during the harvest season (because most workers also grow crops in their agricultural fields), and during seasonal changes (because most fall ill at this time)—he could not do anything to plug this gap. Until WaterAid, supported by HSBC, intervened and turned things around.
Seasonal changes, particularly during monsoons, are a ripe time for various gastrointestinal diseases like diarrhoea and dysentery, which are mainly caused by contamination of water sources and poor hygiene behaviour. “Fever, cough, and cold are also very common during this time,” Ausaf, 38, said, “Either worker are ill or their children and family members are. Either way, absenteeism is high during this time.” This put stress on the company. Then, something changed.
In September 2019, WaterAid, with the support of HSBC, approached Kings International which has 340 employees, to be a part of its initiative in improving water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) conditions of tannery workers in Unnao. As part of this, Ausaf said that their toilets, hand-washing, and drinking water stations were renovated with improved tools, an audio system was put in place near the toilets through which a pre-recorded voice kept reminding everyone about the importance of hygiene, and a television installed in the common area which aided training sessions by the WaterAid team on sanitation and menstrual hygiene.
“The training sessions proved to be very beneficial,” Ausaf said, “Little things, like changing one’s slippers before going to the toilet so that one does not bring back germs into the working or living area, started making sense and workers started following it. We put extra pairs of slippers near the toilets so workers could change out of their working boots, wear those slippers and use the toilet, and then wear their boots again. This also ensured the toilets remained clean.”
From the feedback he gathered, Ausaf realised that the messages imparted during the hygiene training sessions did not just remain limited to the workers but were taken forward, to their families as well. Inspired, some workers who did not have toilets in their homes earlier, also decided to build one.
As a result, the frequency of illnesses among this tannery’s workers—and also in their families—has reduced. “Now absenteeism during seasonal changes has reduced, which means productivity has gone up,” Ausaf said, “It is simple logic: if our workers are healthy, we stand to gain from it. Industries must invest in the health of their workers.”