Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Protect our families and communities

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 8: Chemical dangers > Protect our families and communities


Using safer chemicals is the best way to protect workers and their families. But if dangerous chemicals are used in your factory, you do not have to bring them home. Protect your family by changing clothes and washing your skin and hair before going home. If you work around chemicals and dusts, the factory should provide you with a place to wash yourself and your clothes.

What should be available in your factory:

  • a clean place to store clothes and change clothes after your shift
  • a place to shower with soap and warm water
  • a service that safely cleans your work clothes and protective equipment every day
At home, wash work clothes separately to prevent getting chemicals on other family clothes.
a man washing work clothes in a tub while a woman washers other items nearby.

If you use a chemical to clean stains from your clothes, follow the same precautions for using chemicals at work. Take off the stained clothes, wear gloves, work in a well ventilated area or outdoors, use a very small amount of the chemical, and wash the clothes well with soap and water before you wear them again.

Handling chemical waste

Many factories dump chemical containers and other waste directly into sewers, water sources, and local garbage dumps. This is very dangerous for the community and sometimes for the region that uses the water downstream from the factory. For more information about the dangers of pollution from factories and ways to organize for safer waste disposal, see Chapter 33: Pollution from factories.

If you handle chemical waste, use protective clothing and a respirator to prevent breathing in chemical dust or vapors, or getting chemicals on your skin and clothes.

Empty chemical containers are dangerous. Empty chemical containers should not be reused, taken home, dumped in open areas, or piled outside.

Washing empty chemical containers does not make them safe to use. A container that looks clean can still have enough chemical in it to cause harm. Chemical containers should never be used to hold food, drinks, or water.

Clean containers for community water

In our community, at least one person in every family works in a nearby export factory. There is plenty of water in all the factories, but we do not have running water or electricity in our homes. We have to carry water from a common tap and store it at home in big barrels.

A lot of people in the community used to have skin rashes and stomach problems. Some of us thought these problems were caused by something in the water. In our mothers’ group, we decided to survey families to learn more about health in the community. We found out that everyone used water from the same source, but we used different kinds of barrels to store the water.

illustration of the below: delivery of clean barrels to replace ones used to store chemicals.

We asked more questions and learned that most of the families with the same health problems stored their water in empty barrels taken from a pile outside a factory. We did not know what the barrels had contained, because the labels were written in a language we cannot read.

We asked some workers in that factory to find out what was in the barrels before they were thrown out. They told us that the barrels had contained dangerous chemicals.

The mothers’ group decided to find safer water containers for all the families. We went to a local food factory and asked the boss to give us empty barrels that had contained cooking oil. He was glad we could use his empty barrels, and he makes sure they are washed clean for us. We are now delivering clean barrels with lids to each home, and people do not have to use old chemical barrels anymore.



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