Occupational hazards of wearing apparel manufacture
The textile industry is one of the largest and oldest employers of labour. Textile mills usually last for up to 100 years, and some old textile mills are using machines which are over 40 years old. As a result, there are many hazards indigenous to the textile and clothing industries.
The most common causes of injury and fatality are: (a) [Fire] Fires in textile mills usually spread with great rapidity due to highly inflammable loose textile fibre and accumulated fibre dust. Most textile mills are not of modern fire-resistant construction and floors are usually made of wood, often impregnated with oil dripping from the machines and thereby increasing fire risk. (b) [Lifting and carrying] The heavy loads which must be handled and carried can cause excessive strain and damage to health. (c) [Bleaching kiers] Cotton cloth is sometimes bleached in kiers - vertical tanks about 3m in diameter and 4m in height. One or more workers, usually youths, may have to go into the kiers (drained of the boiling water, bleaching solution and alkaline liquor used in the process) to stack or remove pieces of cloth. Deaths have occurred when one worker has been in the kier and another worker unknowingly opened valves to admit the deadly liquids. (d) [Temperature, humidity and ventilation] Temperatures and humidity levels vary depending upon whether the textile factory is in a cold or temperate climate or in a tropical region. In hot and humid climates, textile factories' humidity sometimes reaches 95% (Bangkok and Shanghai) with temperatures reaching 35ø C and inadequate ventilation. These three factors lead to overheating and exhaustion. (e) [Dust] Weaving and yarn preparation workrooms emit the toxic chemical asbestos into the air, and byssinosis, a respiratory disease, is prevalent among workers in cotton, flax, and hemp mills. (f) [Poor lighting] Good lighting is rare in textile factories even though workers must often thread thousands of intricate threads per day, taxing their eyesight. Windows are rarely kept clean and rooms are not painted in a colour with a high reflection factor, thus leading to eyestrain and possible adverse effects on production and quality control. (g) [Noise] It is impossible for workers to hear one another without shouting into each other's ears, due to the high noise level of shuttle looms, and the noise is often in excess of 85dB. (h) [Hours of work] In the past, working hours in textile mills were excessive: 13 hours a day, 7 days a week. That has been alleviated by the introduction of shift labour (4 six-hour shifts per day) but shift labour has initiated its own problems, with male workers being locked into permanent night labour with no hope of changing over to day work, due to labour laws which prohibit women from being employed after 11 p m.