Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Bad ventilation makes you sick

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 17: Ventilation > Bad ventilation makes you sick


When the ventilation systems in your factory are not working well, chemicals and dusts are likely to get into your body.

If chemicals and dust are in the air you breathe, you probably are exposed to them in other ways, too. Chemicals can be absorbed through the skin or get into your stomach if you touch food or drink, or smoke cigarettes after working with them. You might be exposed to chemicals and dust after you leave work, if the air coming out of the factory is polluted. For more information on how chemicals get in the body and how they can harm you, see Chapter 8: Chemical dangers.


Record any health problems in your health notebook. Ask other workers to do the same. Compare notes to find similarities and note special concerns.

Some chemicals and dust can harm the body right away, while others can take a long time to cause health problems. Watch for signs you are exposed to heat, chemicals, or dust in the air.

  • Headaches and tiredness: Breathing chemicals often causes headaches or dizziness, but these are common problems and can be caused by many things. The same is true of being tired all the time.
  • Problems of the eyes, nose, and throat: Red and irritated eyes, coughing, sneezing, a runny nose or nose bleeds, or mucus the color of the material you are working with can be signs you are breathing dust or chemicals. These signs may go away when you stop working, but they show one or more chemicals got inside your body and may still cause health problems.
  • Asthma or other chronic lung problems: Breathing dust or chemicals may cause permanent damage to your lungs, or even cancer or death. Some damage can be managed with medicines. (See Breathing problems caused by cotton dust and Chemicals cause asthma and other breathing problems, and Appendix B.)
  • Heat exhaustion: Workers can die from too much heat, especially if they have no time to rest or not enough clean water to drink. (See Chapter 15: Heat and cold.)
  • Other health problems: Breathing chemicals can cause many other health problems, such as damage to the kidneys and liver, and cancer. Babies and young children and the developing baby inside a woman’s womb can be harmed more quickly by chemicals. (See Reproductive health problems caused by some chemicals, and Appendix B.)


If you cannot breathe or suddenly feel sick, immediately leave the work area and go where you can breathe fresh air (see First aid for chemicals).



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