The textile industry consists of a number of units engaged in spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing, finishing and a number of other processes that are required to convert fibre into a finished fabric or garment. There are several safety and health issues associated with the textile industry.
The major safety and health issues in the textile industry can be stated as under:
1) Exposure to cotton dust
2) Exposure to chemicals
3) Exposure to noise
4) Ergonomic issues
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.
Exposure to chemicals: Workers in the textile industry are also exposed to a number of chemicals, especially those engaged in the activities of dyeing, printing and finishing. Chemicals based on benzidine, optical brighteners, solvents and fixatives, crease-resistance agents releasing formaldehyde, flame retardants that include organophosphorus and organobromine compounds and antimicrobial agents are used in textile operations.
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.
Exposure to noise: 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.
Ergonomic issues: Ergonomic issues are observed in a majority of the units engaged in textile-related activities in India. 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. Musculoskeletal disorders 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.
Safety and health measures play an important role in any industry. It is essential that the workers be aware of the various occupational hazards in the industry. At the same time, it is necessary that the management take the necessary steps to protect workers from potential hazardous situations.
The following suggestions can be made to improve the safety and health conditions in textile units:
- The seats of the workers and the tables should be well aligned in height so that there is no musculoskeletal strain.
- There should be proper lighting at the place of work so that eye strain can be avoided.
- Machinery should be well maintained in order to reduce the level of noise. If necessary, certain parts of machines can be replaced.
- In case the noise level cannot be controlled, workers should be provided with earplugs so that exposure to noise can be reduced.
- Workers can be rotated within jobs so that they are not faced with continuous noise exposure for a long period of time.
- There should be proper ventilation at the place of work.
- In order to reduce the exposure to dust, workers should be provided with masks.
- Trained medical personnel and first aid facilities as well as safety equipments such as fire extinguishers and fire alarms should be available at the place of work.
- In units where there is heavy exposure to dangerous chemicals, workers should be provided with safety gloves.
- Proper dust control equipment should be set up and maintained to reduce the workers exposure to cotton dust.
- Medical examinations should be conducted by the employers for the workers from time to time. If significant occupational health problems are observed, appropriate measures should be taken by the management.
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