Hesperian Health Guides

Cutting the fabric

a fabric cutter at work; arrows point to danger areas.
Lifting heavy rolls of fabric without help can hurt your upper body and back.
Standing all day on a hard floor without padding can hurt legs, feet, and back.
Powerful cutting tools with no guards can cause severe injury.
Poorly maintained electrical tools can give electrical shocks or sparks that cause fires.
Cutting chemically treated fabrics exposes workers to dangerous fumes and dusts.
Cutting tools are the greatest danger for cutters, but not the only danger they face.

Cutting tools can be very dangerous. To protect workers from being cut or injured when cutting fabric:

  • Machines should have guards that surround the blade.
  • Workers should wear metal mesh gloves so they don’t cut their hands.
  • Workers should receive training on how to use the machines safely — especially how to turn them off quickly!
  • Factories should have a first aid plan and supplies for treating cuts and injuries. See First aid for machine injuries.
  • Factories should also have a health plan to care for and provide rehabilitation to injured workers. It should include compensation to injured workers and their families for temporary or permanent disability that stops them from working.

Dangers from dusty factories

Air thick with fabric dust is very common in garment factories and harmful to health. But dust is an easy problem to solve:

Breathing problems caused by cotton dust

Inhaling dust from cotton and other fabrics can cause breathing problems such as:

  • dry, itchy nose
  • cough that does not go away
  • mucus (phlegm) the same color as the fabric
  • trouble breathing

Breathing cotton dust day after day can also cause a more serious lung disease called brown lung or byssinosis. Signs of byssinosis are:

  • chest tightness
  • wheezing
  • bronchitis that keeps coming back
  • cold or allergy signs If you have these signs, see a health worker who can test you for byssinosis or another lung disease.

Stop smoking and try not to be around people who are smoking.

Home remedies including physical exercise, breathing exercises, and inhaling steam can help, but will not cure it.

Asthma medications might lessen the signs of byssinosis but do not cure it. A person with advanced byssinosis might need an oxygen machine to help her.

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We fought for 15 years to get compensation

We formed the Council of Work and Environment Related Patients’ Network of Thailand (WEPT) because our work in a garment factory in Thailand was making us sick. We had trouble breathing from cotton dust, hearing loss from noisy machines, and damaged eyesight from poor lighting.

A doctor diagnosed a number of us with byssinosis, an occupational disease. This diagnosis enabled us to make a case against our employer. He knew there was a lot of dust but didn’t protect us. We told him we had trouble breathing but he didn’t do anything. The result was we got sicker and sicker until we got byssinosis. So 200 of us joined together to fight for our lives. The court told our employer he needed to compensate us for making us sick. But the employer did not want to pay. He made us go through more than 100 different court cases and appeals.

After more than 10 years, we got a little compensation, but only a pittance. We couldn’t live on that! So 37 of us decided to continue fighting.

After 15 years, in 2010, the Supreme Court on Labor Affairs said our employer had to pay an adequate amount of compensation. This money could never give us back our health or make up for all that we suffered fighting for justice while trying to earn a living. But it was a big win for us. Many workers have byssinosis but never get it diagnosed and often their employer refuses to take responsibility. This win, our win, proves it is possible to fight for justice and be successful.

a group of workers holding a banner.
WEPT fights for workers!
Workers can fight and win!

This page was updated:22 Mar 2019