A penny from danger: Dangerous jobs, dangerous lives

Quite a number of us may have been thinking that the day would come when the risk to remain tight as a bud was more painful than the risk to blossom bright. Until then, we shall remain locked up in the secure and glassy world we have built for ourselves – seeing and feeling things by the sidelines, without actually immersing in the world.

But for some people, living under the shadow of probable harm and death is a common occurrence; it is a part of their day-to-day existence. These are the folks who deserve more than merely a shred of our admiration and respect; without them, risk will be nothing more but a figment of the imagination. Besides, these people render the world a safer, if not a more convenient and colorful home for almost all of us.

Apart from policemen and firefighters who, according to our very own National Crime Victimization Survey, are at the highest risk of injuring themselves, The Menagerie gives you a list of those who are not afraid to brave the lions, lest the emperor chops their heads off. Hats off to you, valiant men of the morrow!


1.    Gasoline station attendants

Not only do these courteous folks attend to us whenever our cars are in need of fuel: they also come to our assistance in their trusty company-provided overalls and with toothy smiles whenever our noses are stuck in our maps, like the lost puppies we are. Many a wayward traveller has been set aright towards the correct direction because of their usually impeccable advice and their willingness to help both damsels and knights in distress.

However, gas station attendants are placing their health at a huge risk, given their constant exposure to gasoline vapors and other hazardous chemicals. As of 2003, the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 has limited the benzene content in gasoline down to 2%, yet prolonged exposure to this chemical can still cause cancer and blood diseases. Sadly, this fact seems to go right under our noses, every time we reproach an attendant for an unintentional error or two. They, who sacrifice their health to attend to our mundane transportation needs, truly deserve our goodwill and patient gratitude.


2.    Garbage collectors

And you thought nothing could be worse than dealing with others’ refuse on a day-to-day basis. These brave souls are risking their safety as well. According to James Englehardt, professor at the University of Miami, the mortality rate for garbage collectors worldwide is 100 times higher than what is considered acceptable risk by any standard. This alarming news is mostly due to health risks associated with handling rubbish teeming with toxins, acids, pathogens, and other bacteria. Perching precariously on the sides or backs of garbage trucks while moving from house to house does not help as well – one little slip and they can easily find themselves caught under the monstrous wheels of the truck. Such an unfortunate accident will, no doubt, lead to a horrible death, especially with the ever-present onslaught of rushing vehicles.


3.    Bartenders

Juggling those bottles looked so pretty on television, did it not? Besides, nothing could be cooler than knowing your liquor like the back of your hand and working at a place where you get to show off the social butterfly in you, right? Not quite so. Bartenders are constantly at high risk of lung disease due to serving drinks in smoke-filled pubs, even for a few nights per week. Moreover, they face constant peril from glass cuts and injuries brought about by drunk and violent customers; in fact, from 2005 to 2009, these folks faced a whopping worldwide violence rate of 79.9% for every 1,000 bartenders in the profession. Thus, it is no wonder that bartending is a physically and psychologically demanding profession, especially during holidays when cocktails and hard drinks rule the night.


4.    Journalists

Who can forget the Maguindanao massacre, honestly?  This dark event in the history of Philippine journalism gives reporters and newspeople their spot on this list, but these daring researchers are always taking risks anywhere, really. Investigative journalism takes a reporter places, not all of which are bright and sunny.  The Philippines is infamously known as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.  From 1986 to 1991 alone, there were 32 cases of reporters taken out, mostly to silence their accusations.  Among a sample of 11, more than half of the murders were insurgency-related (6 out of 7 were caused by the New People’s Army), 4 were covering graft, corruption or illegal gambling, and one was job-related.  Since 1992 there have been 73 reported deaths as stated by the Committee to Protect Journalists – an international union whose interest was piqued by this devastating record.  The possibility of both malicious and accidental harm is high, yet these valiant scribes stay on the job, always in pursuit of the knowledge and truth they can share to all.


5.    Animal slaughterers and meat packers

This one is not quite a fancy job – what with the low wages, high physical demands and long working days; but without our beloved butchers, meat would be a rarity. Though this job comes with a notorious safety record due to the danger of using power saws and heavy knives in the butchering and meat-packing process, meat packers are also often exposed to strong chemicals used in the industry, such as ammonia and chloride. Somehow, in 2008, at least 24 butchers in Minnesota, Nebraska and Indiana were reported to develop complex neurological problems due to inhaling bits of pig brain. Fortunately, all 24 of them have yet to see the end of their days.


6.    Salesladies

Next time you hit the mall and are greeted by a made-up, high-heeled, at least 5’2” lady offering this and that, try and remember that these ladies are working for conditions much worse than snappy customers, and with probably more draining workdays.  The risks these ladies take may be summed up in two points: short work contracts and yes, makeup.  Most salesladies are contracted to work for only three years.  This makes them unable to set any long-term goals or gain stability in their occupations.  As for the makeup, lipstick, eye shadow and blush, they all contain chemicals such as formaldehyde, bronopol, and mercury, to name a few.  These may be alright for once-in-a-while use, but for these ladies to apply them on their faces daily … it is a risk that could amount to cancer, almost too much a price to pay for their gift of gab.


7.   Farmers

The chances (tenant) farmers take are, quite possibly, higher in the Philippines than in most other countries.  These tireless workers seem to have it coming from all sides – they have their share of health-related, natural, financial and accidental hazards to deal with all the time.  Generally, all farmers are exposed to chemicals in pesticides and fertilizer, contaminated water or polluted air, and animal hormones, all of which pose a sizable threat to their health.  There is of course also the risk Mother Nature inadvertently poses as they till and sow their fields in all kinds of weather.

In the Philippines and other developing countries, though, they face another facet of danger: the chance of losing their land and their produce.  Philippine farmers lack a voice in decision-making regarding their future, as their unions bear less fruit than expected.  Other companies discuss the production, consumption and – as of late – hybridization of the crops these farmers work on night and day. Imagine only being able to watch as someone takes your good old corn and genetically modifies it – because yes, that’s exactly what these farmers have to do.  Now imagine cultivating your land one day, only find out it’s been sold, with very little compensation. Sadly, that’s what our tenant-farmers have to go through too.


8.    Prostitutes

Prostitution gets a bad rap in many places, and in the Philippines even more so.  Contrary to some places in Australia and Europe, where prostitution is legal and ensures its nighttime workers certain rights to protect them, in the Philippines it is entirely illegal.  This is morally understandable, but prostitutes’ illegality leaves them in a sad situation.  They are unable to form a union, file cases against rape or human trafficking, and protect themselves the way most regular workers can.  Plus they experience the plights of several other jobs: the layer of makeup akin to a saleslady’s, the reversed body clocks of late-night security guards and the drunk or intoxicated environment they share with bartenders as workers of the night.  Add to all these the constant threat of STDs, abuse and pregnancy, it’s no wonder prostitution is one of the worst on our list.

This list has come to a stop, but there are infinitely many risks to take in nearly every job one can think of.  What is so important that makes us brave all the dangers that come our way?  Naturally, we might say that society has put these people in tough situations, making them desperate enough to risk little less than their lives each day.  This is something most employers should probably consider, especially when thinking of the benefits they are willing to give.   But some risks are too much to take, so where is the line drawn?  What really pushes people to work despite the hazard?  It may be the lure of money for some, but for many others it is the honor and responsibility that keeps them at it – they work to put food on the table, to pay the bills, and to make people happy.  Like all jobs, these are kept for one main reason.  Whatever dangers there may be, we overcome all for the sake of others – and truly, that makes any risk worth taking.


Sidebar: 3 Dangers in DLSU Jobs

In addition to these jobs where people push their luck regularly, the Menagerie took a sneak peek into the lives of some of the people we see quite often… and uncovered some remarkable truths about the risks they face right here in DLSU.


1.    Night-watch security guards

Before this is written off as no big deal (“Nothing much happens around school anyway”), one must not forget that these guards are often alone in their posts at night, solitary figures to watch over their respective stands, with only one guard assigned per building to roam until 7 am the next day.  They fight fatigue and all forms of sickness to make sure the school is safe from any and all kinds of trouble, turning their body clock workings upside-down in the process, sometimes going on straight duty up to 24 or even 48 hours.  And of course, should nightly scalawags come around (and we’re not talking about the old white ladies and poltergeists that glide around at that hour here – even if the guards insist these ghosts do abound) they alone have the abilities and means to stop them and apprehend them. So for all you couples that stay at the TYA until 10:30 pm…


2.    Photocopier operators

This may be surprising.  “Ate from the Xerox center?  What’s so dangerous about her job?” We breeze past them without giving them the slightest hint of an acknowledgement, yet these ladies – or Ates, as we fondly call them – are ready to greet us with their timid smiles and save us from a heap of academic strain and trouble. They abound within the University – scattered throughout nooks and hallways, or wherever photocopying machines can be handily located, such as in the ground floor of St. Joseph Building and in the corner of St. La Salle Hall and Brother Connon Hall (just outside the Animo canteen). The downside to their job? They are constantly exposed to radiation and chemical fumes, which pose serious health hazards. In fact, a study published in Environmental Research, “An Evaluation of Employee Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds in Three Photocopy Centers,” claimed that up to 54 different harmful VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), such as benzene, are found in the air around photocopiers. It is true, however, that such chemicals are already omitted from the copy’s mix with the upgraded copiers that DLSU is using. If nothing else, we salute these brave and accommodating heroines for being such great sports about it, as society’s conditions would have it.


3.    Window and rooftop cleaners

This may be a commonsensical addition to the list, given that Andrew, Henry Sy and even the LS and Yuchengco buildings have extremely tall windows and roofs.  The idea of falling from that great of a height is paralyzing – but day-by-day, these courageous cleaners literally rise up twenty stories to the challenge.  Just imagine being up on top of Andrew building – or the edge of it, if it’s the windows that need cleaning – and trying valiantly not to look down as you wipe off the Manila dirt that collects on the glass.  Like all the jobs on this list, it’s precarious – and it deserves much credit. Pay and benefits.



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