Occupational Health and Safety is a precondition to protect the workers health and help them to work in decent, safe and healthy way that the proprietors of corporations fulfil the main objectives of social responsibility. It’s an irreversible trend to confirm the profits of corporations, employees, and environment organically, to fulfill people-oriented, nature-economy-community harmony and sustainable development. As the human factor has an imperative role in workplace accidents, it should be given due significance in accident prevention strategies. Occupational Health and Safety needs to be built-in in all decisions and actions to achieve the goal of safe and conducive workplace. Due to the globalization of trade, several organizations are now involved in monitoring unfair labor practices and environment health and safety conditions in industrial operations in the developing countries.
2. Health and Safety Issues in Textile Industries
There are numerous health and safety (H&S) issues associated with the textile industry. These include:
- Chemical exposure from the processing and dyeing of materials
- Exposure to cotton and other organic dusts, which can affect the throat and lungs; musculoskeletal stresses
- Noise exposure, which can lead to hearing loss
- Temperature and ventilation, which can lead to fatigue and dehydration if temperatures are too high
- Working hours and breaks, including access to food, drinks and bathroom facilities.
This short article cannot cover all the hazards and risks in all the parts of the textiles sector, but highlights some of the key issues related to workers and how worker safety and health can be managed.
3. Workplace Hazards in Textile Industry
3.1. Musculoskeletal disorders
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common work-related health problem in textile sector, with almost one in four workers reporting backache and one in five complaining of muscular pains. Manual handling, the lifting, holding, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or movement of a load, is the largest cause of injuries in the textiles sector. Manual handling can cause either cumulative disorder from the gradual deterioration of the musculoskeletal system, such as lower back pain, or acute trauma such as cuts or fractures due to accidents.
In the textiles sector, risk factors for MSDs include:
- Working in awkward postures, such as during spinning, cutting, product control, and packaging
- Repetitive movements, such as during spinning, cutting, product control, and packaging
- Fatigue from manual handling, during the storage, inspection, treatment, shipping, finishing, and cutting of textile
3.2. Exposure to cotton dust
The workers engaged in the processing and spinning of cotton are exposed to significant amounts of cotton dust. They are also exposed to particles of pesticides and soil. Exposure to cotton dust and other particles leads to respiratory disorders among the textile workers. The fatal disease of byssinosis, commonly known as brown lung, is caused among people working in the textile industry on account of excessive exposure to cotton dust. The symptoms of this disease include tightening of the chest, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Studies have revealed that acute respiratory diseases are more common among the workers in carpet weaving units.
3.3. Exposure to chemical agents
Many different groups of chemical substances are used in the textiles sector including;
- Optical brighteners
- Crease-resistance agents
- Flame retardants
- Heavy metals
- Antimicrobial agents.
They are used in dyeing, printing, finishing, bleaching, washing, dry cleaning, weaving slashing/sizing, and spinning. Respiratory and skin sensitizers can be found in the textiles industry, for example textiles fibers, reactive dyes, synthetic fibers, and formaldehyde. The textile industry has been evaluated as a sector with an increased carcinogenic risk. Several studies have showed an increased risk of nasal, laryngeal and bladder cancer in women.
Studies have revealed links between exposure to formaldehyde and nasal and lung cancer as well as to brain cancer and leukemia, which can be fatal. In the long run, exposure to formaldehyde could lead to respiratory difficulty and eczema. Contact of the chemicals with skin as well as inhalation of the chemicals can lead to several serious health effects.
3.4. Exposure to Dusts and Fibres
The exposure of workers to dusts from material such as silk, cotton, wool, flax, hemp, sisal, and jute can occur during weaving, spinning, cutting, ginning, and packaging. Division of tasks along gender lines may mean that women are exposed to organic dusts more than men, with respiratory diseases being diagnosed more often in women than men. Exposure to fibres and yarns may cause nasal or bladder cancer.
3.5. Exposure to Biological Agents
In some activities, such as carding and willowing, workers may be exposed to biological agents such as anthrax, clostridium tetani (the causative agent for tetanus), and coxiella burnetti (which causes Q fever). Exposure to biological agents can result in allergies and respiratory disorders.
3.6. Exposure to Physical Agents
Workers may be exposed to noise and vibrations, for example during weaving, spinning, sewing, twisting, and cutting. Exposure to loud noise can result in permanent hearing damage such as noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. High levels of noise have been observed in most of the units engaged in the textile industry, particularly those in developing countries. In the long run, exposure to high noise levels has been known to damage the eardrum and cause hearing loss. Other problems like fatigue, absenteeism, annoyance, anxiety, reduction in efficiency, changes in pulse rate and blood pressure as well as sleep disorders have also been noted on account of continuous exposure to noise. Lack of efficient maintenance of machinery is one of the major reasons behind the noise pollution in a majority of the units. Though it causes serious health effects, exposure to noise is often ignored by textile units because its effects are not immediately visible and there is an absence of pain. Exposure to vibration, particularly together with risk factors for MSDs, can lead to long-term harm. Electromagnetic fields may also be found in some workplaces in the textiles sector.
3.7. Ergonomic Issues
Ergonomic issues are observed in a majority of the units engaged in textile-related activities in Pakistan. Most of these units have a working environment that is unsafe and unhealthy for the workers. Workers in these units face a number of problems such as unsuitable furniture, improper ventilation and lighting, and lack of efficient safety measures in case of emergencies. The workers in such units are at risk for developing various occupational diseases. Diseases like carpal tunnel syndrome, forearm tendinitis, bicapital tendinitis, lower back pain, epicondylitis, neck pain, shoulder pain, and osteoarthritis of the knees are some of the occupational diseases that have been observed among the workers on account of poor ergonomic conditions. These issues are more common in developing nations as compared to developed ones.
3.8. Psychosocial Issues in the Textiles Sector
Work-related stress has been defined as being experienced when the demands of the work environment exceed the workers ability to cope with or control them. Work-related stress may be an issue in some areas of the textiles sector, being associated for example with repetitive and fast paced work, and where the worker has no influence on how the job is done.
4. Protective Measures
4.1 Personal Protective Equipment
Workers often need to wear protective equipment to be protected from injury, illness and death caused by exposure to workplace hazards. Each worker who works in an area that contains textile induced hazards must be provided with protective equipment that is appropriate to the specific parts of the body to be protected and for the work to be performed. Workers must be trained not only in the proper use of the protective equipment, but also in the care and maintenance of that equipment, including any pre-fitting, testing, or inspection that may be required. Health education programs should be developed and carried out to raise the awareness of the workers regarding the proper using of personal protective equipment in the industry. This may include gloves, safety glasses and masks depending on the chemicals being handled. It is not necessary to wear gloves or a mask all the time but the advice on the MSDS should be referred to and followed. If gloves are worn they should not be taken outside the laboratory. Laboratory coats should also be worn to minimize exposure from any accidental spills. Mouth pippetting is not an acceptable practice.
4.2. First Aid
There should always be at least one member of staff on each shift that is trained in “First Aid” and who is made responsible for all first aid requirements during their shift. A protocol is also required to ensure that every factory worker knows who the first aid person is and their usual whereabouts so that they can contact them quickly in an emergency. At least one first aid box should be made available in an area that is accessible to all the workers. In larger factories several boxes may be required in different areas to ensure that they can easily be reached in an emergency. The box should be clearly marked and include some basic materials such as the following:
- Liquid antiseptic
- Band aid
- Sterile gauze
- Sterile cotton
- Pain killers
The first aid box should be properly maintained by a nominated person and checked regularly. An accident report book should be kept and an entry should be added for every accident or incident. Identifying and monitoring the type of incidents that occur should help to improve safety within a factory.
4.3. Record Keeping
Records of work related injuries should be made for planning future safety measures. The management should develop a checklist of measures and actions that need to be conducted monthly to ensure that safety guidelines are being followed and to investigate incidents where accidents have happened. This can be done via factory visits and looking for potential hazards in the workplace, checking the accident and health records, and asking the employees for feedback on health and safety issues. Management should also have a maintenance plan to reduce accidents and equipment breakdown.
Employees must be made aware of the risks of the chemicals and equipment they are using. They should be properly trained in the use of machinery, laboratory equipment, and the use of dyes and chemicals, as well as the importance of keeping logs of chemicals used. Further training should be provided on handling of solvents and other harmful chemicals, and how to deal with accidental spills, contact with skin and eyes, and ingestion of chemicals. Training should be repeated regularly to ensure that all factory staff is always aware of current health and safety issues.
4.5. Fire Fighting
Sufficient fire extinguishers should be made available and signs should be placed in prominent places so that people are aware of their presence. Fire alarms and emergency lights should be present, and floor and emergency exit markings should be clearly visible in appropriate places.
4.6. Material Safety Data Sheets
A material safety data sheet (MSDS) and safety data sheet (SDS) or product safety data sheet (PSDS) is an important component of occupational safety and health. It is intended to provide workers and emergency personnel with procedures for handling or working with that, boiling point, flash point, toxicity, and first Aid.
Sings are an important means of informing and reminding staff of health and safety issues. Issues where signs are important include;
- There should also be signs saying “No Food and Drink” in areas such as the laboratory, store room and factory floor, and any other areas where it is not safe to consume food, for example because of the risk of contamination by chemicals.
- Hazardous chemicals should be clearly marked in an appropriate language and with clear symbols that people have been trained to recognise and understand.
- Heavy objects should be marked as such to avoid musculoskeletal accidents.
- Substances or items that present a fire hazard should be clearly labelled with the universally recognized symbol.
- Signs should be placed near inflammable substances stating that it is not permitted to smoke or have open fires.
- Showers and eye washes should be made available and clearly marked.
5. Roles and Responsibilities
5.1. Role of the Management
The management should regularly check and document the national laws and regulations concerning workplace safety. The management should then develop a protocol through which to implement these laws. It may also be necessary to consider the requirements of certain buyers, who may have codes of conduct that include aspects of H&S, corporate social responsibility and environmental responsibility. The protocol given in this document should provide a good basis for this and if implemented correctly may improve the safety of the working environment in most factories.
5.2. Providing Basic Needs
Employees should be given access to safe drinking water as well as a clean area for meals. Meals should be taken in a separate area away from the factory production. The factory staff should also have access to a sufficient number of toilets of adequate quality, this is a legal requirement and contained in most codes of conduct provided by buyers.
5.3. Role of the Factory Staff
Each employee should have sufficient appropriate training and experience so that they can perform all their required job activities. Where relevant each employee should:
- Be aware of the contents of MSDS and of potential H&S hazards.
- Follow all protocol in the safe handling and disposal of dyes and chemicals.
- Be aware of the fire protocol, where fire extinguishers are and where the nearest exit is and where assembly points are.
- Be aware of where the first aid kit is.
- Wash hands before meals, when leaving the work area and at the end of the shift. This will prevent accidental ingestion of chemicals or contact with eyes.
- Maintain correct posture when lifting or carrying heavy objects.
- Report all accidents and sicknesses to the manager as soon as they occur.
- Report any defects or problems with the machinery that might lead to potential accidents.
5.4. Risk Assessment
The process for carrying out a risk assessment can be broken down into a series of steps:
- Identifying hazards and those at risks
- Evaluating and prioritizing lists
- Deciding on preventive action
- Taking action
- Monitoring and reviewing
5.5. Checklist – A simple Tool for Risk Assessment
Checklists can be useful tools as part of the risk assessment process, when they can be used to identify hazards. They can also be used in monitoring the performance of control measures. Below is the checklist for hazard identification in textile sector however it may vary from industry to industry.
|Hazards in textile industry|
|Are there machines where an unprotected or unintentional start-up is possible?|
|Is work equipment and machinery regularly checked to ensure that it works properly and that the guards and other protective measures are in good condition and operating correctly?|
|Are the emergency stops on the work equipment and machinery accessible and working?|
|Noise and Vibration|
|Does the employer purchase the lowest noise and vibration machinery available?|
|Are there workers exposed to noise which is so loud that they have to shout to communicate with a person standing 0.5-1 metre away?|
|Are workers using ear-protectors where the noise level is high?|
|Do workers use hazardous chemicals if material safety data sheets are not supplied?|
|Are new workers told of the risks from the dangerous substances in the workplace?|
|Are there workstations without appropriate collective preventive equipment, such as local exhaust ventilation?|
|Are there workers who do not use personal protective equipment, such as gloves, goggles, face shields or respirators, even if this is required?|
|Are fire precautions in place, operational, and accessible?|
|Are there any sources of ignition; for example, open fire, electrical equipment, electrostatic charges or high temperature?|
|Are automatic fires extinguishing systems employed in the facility?|
|Are there any fire/high temperature/electrostatic field sources in explosive areas?|
|Do workers have to carry out repetitive tasks, and cannot dictate their pace of work?|
|Do workers stand or walk for a long period of time?|
|Is the floor uneven, sloping, or in other ways likely to make the movement of goods more difficult?|
|Do people work in uncomfortable or awkward postures and positions?|
6. Conclusion and Recommendations
The health and safety issues discussed in the article highlight the importance of assessing risks in the textile dyeing industry and taking steps to minimize them. General statements such as “avoid hazardous chemicals” are both insufficient and meaningless as all chemicals are potentially hazardous if used incorrectly. Thus, time needs to be spent planning code of conduct statements and health and safety protocols. Factory health and safety procedures need to include aspects to ensure that all factory staff are aware of the hazards and risks, and how to protect themselves, and others, from them. The actions necessary to achieve this include:
- Knowing how to handle chemicals and machinery safely
- Wearing appropriate protective gear at certain times
- Knowing what to do if accidents happen
To ensure that factory workers know these things the factory managers have a responsibility to keep themselves up to date and informed of health and safety legislation, provide regular training for factory staff, clearly mark environmental hazards such as slippery floors, and ensure workers know where fire equipment, fire escapes, first aid kits, emergency showers and eye washes are kept.